Clovis News

Visalia mail-bomb suspect denied release

An Oklahoma man accused of sending a mail bomb that injured his nephew at a Visalia business was denied release Monday from Fresno County Jail while his case works its way through the federal courts.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Sandra M. Snyder said that Vernon Dale Mustin, 51, was both a danger to the community and someone at risk of fleeing prosecution.

Mustin, of Spiro, Okla., has pleaded not guilty to charges of transporting an explosive with intent to kill or injure, mailing injurious articles and possessing and using a destructive device.

If convicted on all charges, the minimum federal prison sentence for Mustin would be 43 years, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Escobar, who is prosecuting the case.

Mustin's nephew, 31-year-old Clovis resident Aaron Mustin, opened a package on Sept. 8 at Cal-Air Cooling and Heating, the Visalia business he co-owns with his father, Danny Mustin. Danny and Vernon Mustin are brothers.

The package contained five pipe bombs inside a plastic tackle box.

Aaron Mustin suffered flash burns and cuts to his right arm, left hand and face when one of the pipe bombs exploded as he reached into the tackle box, according to postal inspectors. Escobar told Snyder that the injuries suffered by Aaron Mustin were serious -- but could have been much worse.

"Had all five [pipe bombs] gone off," she said, "the injury, if not fatal, would have been very severe."

She also noted the package was sent through the U.S. mail via a remailing service in Roseville, endangering several people who handled the package. The action, Escobar said, shows Vernon Mustin has an "extreme, reckless, disregard for human life."

But Peggy Sasso, the federal defender representing Mustin, said he should be released from jail pending his trial. She said Mustin's mother is traveling via bus from Oklahoma to take custody of him.

Sasso did not address Escobar's allegations, but noted that Monday's hearing was not the proper time to "try the case."

Escobar, however, said if Mustin were permitted to remain free pending resolution of his case, his brother Danny and his family would be in danger.

She added that Mustin has a significant criminal record and a history of not showing up for hearings, listing six missed court hearings between 1986 and 2000. Escobar also said Mustin has a pending felony drug charge in Oklahoma.

Mustin was arrested in Oklahoma on Oct. 15. His next court date is Nov. 23 before U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger.

Related stories from Fresno Bee