Vegas man pleads guilty in weapons of mass destruction case
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Las Vegas man jailed for more than a year on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction charges pleaded guilty Thursday to lesser counts to avoid trial amid what his lawyer later called a “witch hunt hysteria” climate following incidents like the Las Vegas Strip shooting last Oct. 1.
Nicolai Howard Mork acknowledged that his pleas to felony charges of attempted unlawful acts related to weapons of mass destruction and explosives component possession are expected to get him four to 10 years in Nevada state prison at sentencing Aug. 9.
His defense attorney, Nicholas Wooldridge, said outside court that his 41-year-old client could have faced life in prison if a jury found him guilty of a terrorism charge that can be broadly interpreted. He said he doubted a trial could be fair.
“There’s a witch hunt hysteria with these types of cases,” Wooldridge said of the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people at an outdoor concert and injured more than 800.
Las Vegas police have been making weekly releases of public records since May 30, including recordings of 911 calls, footage of officer body-camera and street surveillance footage, and witness incident reports.
Wooldridge called Mork, the holder of a master’s in business from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “exhausted and ready to be done with this case.”
Mork admitted setting small explosions around his neighborhood that prompted complaints to police who raided Mork’s home in December 2016, just days before a New Year’s Eve fireworks event that draws hundreds of thousands of tourists to southern Nevada. Authorities did not link Mork’s actions with the Las Vegas Strip event.
No one was injured in the neighborhood blasts. But prosecutor Jacob Villani maintained in previous court hearings that authorities needed to act before someone got hurt.
Villani said police shouldn’t have to wait for someone to actually blow up a building.
In court, Mork stood shackled and admitted to Clark County District Court Judge Jennifer Togliatti that he stockpiled hundreds of pounds of powders in late 2016 including ammonium nitrate, aluminum powder and red iron oxide.
Ammonium nitrate was a component of the bomb that destroyed a section of a U.S. federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 and killed 168 people.
Aluminum powder and iron oxide can burn rapidly when mixed.
Mork also admitted having a bin containing a powder that resembled a commercially available blend used in targets that explode when shot.
Wooldridge denied the compounds seized by police from Mork’s home were weaponized for mass destruction. He said Mork used them to fashion homemade exploding shooting practice targets.