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"Will Rogers Ex-Baggage Handler's Apology Wins Leniency"

Friday, December 15, 2006

Will Rogers Ex-Baggage Handler's Apology Wins Leniency
By Jay F. Marks
The Oklahoman

A former baggage handler was sentenced in federal court in Oklahoma City on
Tuesday to six months of home detention for sparking a full-scale terrorist
probe at Will Rogers World Airport in February.

Michael T. Hughes, 27, had pleaded guilty in August to making a false
terrorist threat, a charge that carries as many as five years in prison.

He confessed to writing "This plane will explode on Feb. 27," inside the
baggage compartment of a regional American Airlines jet, then pointing out
the message to a supervisor.

The Midwest City resident apologized Tuesday for his actions before U.S.
District Judge Tim Leonard, who decided his "stupid decision" did not
warrant a prison term.

"Mr. Hughes, I'm giving you a break," the judge said. "I hope you take
advantage of it."

Prosecutors said Hughes' message set off a full-scale response from
authorities at the airport, who scrambled to determine whether the threat
was real.

"No one, anymore, takes something like this lightly," Assistant U.S.
Attorney Scott Palk said.

He said Hughes had several chances to admit he caused the panic at the
airport Feb. 27, but he did not until he was confronted by FBI agents more
than a week later.

Defense attorney June Tyhurst said Hughes agreed to plead guilty before any
charges were filed against him.

Tyhurst blamed a lack of maturity and self esteem for Hughes' decision to
fake a bomb threat. She said his "misguided conduct" was an effort to earn
praise from his supervisors.

Tyhurst urged Leonard to sentence Hughes to probation so he could continue
working and supporting his family.

Leonard questioned how Hughes could have been unaware of what would happen
as a result of his threat, but concluded he now realizes the consequences of
his actions.

He sentenced Hughes to four years probation, including six months home
detention, and a $2,000 fine.

U.S. Attorney John Richter said Hughes' actions were no laughing matter.

"In our nation's war on terror, every single threat must be taken seriously
and requires an immediate response and investigation in order to ensure
public protection," he said in a new release. "Hoaxes unnecessarily divert
the attention of law enforcement from their work on real cases and are a
complete waste of taxpayer resources."

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