An Indiana man who was bound for the 2016 LA Pride parade in West Hollywood when he was arrested in Santa Monica, where police seized weapons, ammunition and bomb-making materials found in his car, pleaded no contest Wednesday to three felony charges and was immediately sentenced to seven years and four months in state prison.
James Wesley Howell, 22, pleaded no contest in an Airport Courthouse courtroom to one count each of unlawful assault weapon activity, possession of a destructive device on a public road or highway and possession of a destructive device, Deputy District Attorney Samuel Hulefeld said.
Howell was arrested shortly before 6 a.m. on June 12, 2016, by Santa Monica police in the 1700 block of 11th Street, near Olympic Boulevard — hours after the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, left 49 people and the gunman dead.
Howell was found sitting in his car when officers responded to a report of a man knocking on a resident’s door and window.
Officers examined Howell’s white Acura sedan with Indiana license plates and recovered three assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and ammunition along with a five-gallon bucket with chemicals that could have been used to make an improvised explosive device, police said. The sheriff’s department bomb squad was called to help make certain the vehicle and area were safe.
According to court documents, Howell also had a buck knife, a Taser, a black hood, handcuffs and a security badge in his car.
Howell told police he was planning to attend the 46th annual LA Pride Parade and Festival in West Hollywood, but made no reference to doing harm there, according to Santa Monica police Lt. Saul Rodriguez.
Santa Monica police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks and Rodriguez said there was no known connection between Howell and the mass shooting in Orlando.
Security was increased at the LA Pride festival as a result of the Orlando massacre and Howell’s arrest.
During Howell’s arraignment on June 14, 2016, the prosecutor said the defendant had 20 pounds of explosive mix in his car, along with five gallons of gasoline — materials that could create an explosive similar to the one used in the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. Some of the materials were already mixed in a bucket in the car, the prosecutor said.
One day after the charges were filed against him in Los Angeles, Howell was charged with sexually molesting a 12-year-old girl in Indiana, the Indianapolis Star reported in 2016.
According to the Star, Indiana officials believe Howell left for California after learning he was under investigation in the molestation case. Citing court documents and the victim’s family, the newspaper also reported that Howell threatened to kill himself, members of the victim’s family and police if they tried to arrest him.
The status of the Indiana case was not immediately known.