Judge keeps Atwood in custody|[3/16/05]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 16, 2005

JACKSON – A four-hour bond hearing Tuesday for a 21-year-old Warren County man accused of threatening others and pretending to be a police officer resulted in an order that he remain in custody pending his April trial.

“There are more conversions in prison than in all the churches in the United States combined,” U.S. District Court Judge David Bramlette said in response to a plea for release by David Garland Atwood II, 5290 Fisher Ferry Road.

Atwood, who filed to run for sheriff and for constable while a teen in Vicksburg, faces eight charges, including using a computer to entice a minor, using a computer to threaten a Virginia man’s life and six counts of wire fraud. He has been in federal prison in Madison County since his July 2 arrest.

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During the hearing, witnesses and documents described behavior that Atwood himself termed “bizarre.”

“Judge Bramlette, I’ve spent nine months in jail and it’s been hard on me. I’ve been beaten up twice in jail. Got my nose busted and tooth cracked,” Atwood said. He continued, “I’m through acting stupid, doing bizarre acts to get attention. I’m through. I want to redeem myself.”

Bramlette, however, noted that Atwood’s attorney Jerry Campbell of Vicksburg, who is also Atwood’s stepfather, did not provide a psychiatric evaluation to counter a report made by a government psychiatrist. The government report said Atwood has trouble controlling his impulses, and the prognosis for behavioral change is poor.

“He has a fixation on law enforcement and military service. Some family members see that as playing games. The psychiatrist sees that differently and that troubles me,” Bramlette said.

Marcus Jung, an FBI special agent, and Mark Quarles, a U.S. probation officer, were among government witnesses. Quarles testified that Atwood executed a traffic stop on the Natchez Trace Parkway, attempted to handcuff a motorist and shot at his car while the motorist escaped. He pleaded guilty to the charge in 2002.

Jung described how Atwood used the identity of a Jackson police officer to obtain confidential user information from America Online. Federal agents discovered 14 documents with confidential information when they raided his bedroom at his grandmother’s house in July. They also found a fake Warren County deputy’s ID, fake Air Force ID and several fake driver’s licenses.

Included in the documents was information on the Virginia man Atwood is accused of threatening to kill.

Atwood met the man in an AOL chat room for homosexuals, Jung said. Both were pretending to be different people; in Atwood’s case, an Air Force sergeant, in the victim’s case, a much younger man.

Citing electronic records, Jung said Atwood became incensed when he discovered the man was not who he said he was and threatened his life, including one message that read, “one night as you walk out to your vehicle i am gonna be waiting there with a knife and I am gonna slice you from your belly to your throat.” Atwood included a picture he had taken of the man’s house.

Using more electronic records, Jung said Atwood tried to arrange a meeting with a 15-year-old male for sex. Instant messages obtained by the government showed Atwood was aware of the minor’s age when he made the offer and knew it was against the law.

A dozen witnesses on Atwood’s behalf said his behavior was the result of a traumatic and abusive childhood, and that spending nine months in prison has changed him. They emphasized that he had never physically harmed anyone.

When Atwood testified on his own behalf, U.S. Attorney Harold Brittain produced instant message records between Atwood and Chuck Knipp of Long Beach, who had testified earlier on Atwood’s behalf. Knipp, who dressed in a black coat and clerical collar at the hearing, described himself as a Quaker and Unitarian minister and Atwood’s spiritual adviser. Under questioning, Knipp said he also does standup comedy, sometimes in blackface.

Knipp said he met Atwood through friends and that Atwood had impressed him with his ability to recite Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” speech from memory.

The messages between the two recorded a conversation about Knipp’s problems with a neighbor. In several messages, Atwood referred to the Ku Klux Klan, saying in one, “Throw a (expletive) burning cross through his bedroom window.” Atwood said the messages were taken out of context and were a joke. However, a Klan robe was found in Atwood’s truck during one arrest, Jung testified.

Atwood’s mother, Joan Campbell, and other relatives described bad experiences since she and Atwood’s father divorced when Atwood was 14. His paternal grandmother, Vivian Atwood, with whom he had lived, attended the hearing.

In the indictments, Atwood is also accused of using the identities of relatives on his father’s side to obtain credit cards and buying $30,000 worth of merchandise with them, Jung said.

Atwood also has a state indictment for malicious mischief pending against him because of a Warren County arrest for shooting a tractor on his aunt’s property.

Atwood’s trial will be set for early in the April docket in Jackson, Bramlette said.