Houston man who tried to bomb Confederate statue in Hermann park gets 6 years in federal prison
By Gabrielle Banks and Samantha Ketterer
Friday, August 17, 2018
A federal judge expressed deep concern for public safety and cited previous incidents involving explosives as he sentenced a Houston man to more than six years in prison for attempting to bomb a statue of a Confederate commander last summer in Hermann Park.
Clad in a green jail uniform and wearing thick-rimmed glasses, Andrew C.E. Schneck, 26, received his 6½-year sentence without offering a statement or displaying much emotion as several members of his family watched from the court gallery. After completing his time in prison, Schneck will be placed on three years of supervised release, according to the order by U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr.
“The high risk conduct of the defendant has now, on two occasions, endangered the public,” Werlein noted during sentencing. “You cannot count always on getting maximum leniency. You have got to reform your conduct.”
Schneck, who was previously arrested for amassing explosives at his parents’ upscale home in Southampton Place, near the Museum District, has spent the past year at a federal jail in downtown Houston. He admitted to fashioning a bomb out of materials he collected in an effort to destroy the statue.
The attempted bombing happened amid a wave of protests around the country over civic monuments that venerate people touted as heroes of the South during the Civil War.
Attorney Philip Hilder on Friday argued for five years of confinement, the minimum possible sentence, in part because of Schneck’s behavioral disabilities. Hilder objected to the sentence of six and a half years, but Werlein overruled it, calling the sentence “sufficient” according to the law.
Schneck will also pay a $10,000 fine. The conditions of his supervised release include not being allowed to possess, store or purchase chemical agents that can be combined to make explosives.
“I think the court was very reflective, and the sentence reflects the court’s sentiment,” Hilder said after the sentencing. “I am confident that Andrew will become a productive member of society upon his release and I do think he’s learned a valuable lesson.”
Schneck’s family declined to comment after the hearing.
Liked building explosives
Schneck pleaded guilty in March before Werlein to a willful attempt to maliciously damage or destroy property in violation of federal law. At the time, a federal prosecutor dismissed a sentence enhancement related to the harm an explosion could have caused, which could have allowed for a longer prison sentence.
In court on Friday, Werlein pointed to Schneck’s affinity for concocting homemade explosives. He asked Hilder several questions about Schneck’s previous brush with the law, as well as an instance where the Austin Fire Department found ammonium nitrate at Schneck’s apartment. Hilder said that there hadn’t been an actual fire, but confirmed that the fire department was called to the scene.
In 2014, he was convicted of storing explosives for which he earned five years of probation. The attempted bombing of the statue in Hermann Park came less than 10 months after he was released from probation ahead of schedule, Werlein said.
Schneck’s arrest last summer alarmed many residents in Southampton Place. After the attempted bombing, law enforcement officials forced the evacuation of the neighborhood, and residents stood on the fringes watching police and federal agents swarm their usually quiet street. Bomb squad experts eventually detonated a cache of high-powered explosives found on the property owned by Schneck’s parents.
Schneck spent several months of his detention at an intensive inpatient program. He told the judge during sentencing that he was taking mood stabilizing medication.
He graduated with a degree in chemistry from Austin College in Sherman and had a penchant for experiments, according to a source familiar with the case.
A special prison?
Hilder advocated that Schneck be sent to a prison that is experienced in accommodating people with disabilities. That decision is ultimately up to the Bureau of Prisons.
Werlein said that while he understands the difficulty of determining sentences for people with disabilities, Schneck has repeated the same mistakes.
“Ultimately, each person has to be responsible for certain choices made,” Werlein said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Feazel said at his plea hearing that on Aug. 19, 2017, a park ranger saw Schneck kneeling with two small boxes in the bushes near the base of a statue of Lt. Richard Dowling. The ranger told Schneck to put the boxes on the ground.
The boxes contained a homemade detonator, a timer, wiring, a battery, a bottle of nitroglycerin and an explosive organic compound known as HMTD, hexamethylene triperoxide diamine, officials said.
Upon being discovered, Schneck reportedly tried to drink some of the liquid explosives but then spit out the liquid and poured the contents of the bottle onto the ground, Feazel said.
Schneck lived at home with his parents at the time of the incident, Hilder said.
The white marble statue of Dowling, an Irish immigrant who lived in Houston and fought for the Confederacy, was erected in 1905 to honor the Confederate victory he led at Sabine Pass. A street named for Dowling was changed last year to Emancipation Avenue.