ST. LOUIS • The full cast was in court Tuesday afternoon to watch Milton “Skip” Ohlsen admit planting a bomb that exploded in a Clayton parking garage.
His ex-wife, Michelle, who fought him in a contentious divorce and custody case, sat near her former lawyer, Richard Eisen, the intended victim. Nearby was John Gillis, who almost died in the blast only because he happened to park his car, which looked like Eisen’s, in the same garage.
When Ohlsen, entered the federal courtroom downtown, he looked in the direction of his former wife and Eisen and just shook his head.
After several delays, as he quibbled over the details of his plea agreement and was briefly escorted out, Ohlsen acknowledged the crime. His trial was to begin Monday.
As part of a deal with prosecutors for the recommendation of a 20-year sentence, Ohlsen, pleaded guilty to four of five explosives-related charges. The fifth, use of a destructive device to commit a crime of violence, is to be dismissed at his sentencing hearing Dec. 13. It would carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison.
U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber said he will accept the agreement.
“Obviously he was guilty of the crime and accepted responsibility for his actions,” said Gil Sison, one of Ohlsen’s lawyers, after the hearing.
Outside the courtroom, Gillis, 73, said the bombing was “a long time ago” and that he has “gotten on with my life.”
“I’m glad there’s finally closure,” he said, before praising law enforcement’s efforts.
Asked if he had fully recovered, Gillis’ wife answered, “Yes,” before he showed a reporter two areas of skin grafts to repair bomb damage. Skin from his thighs was used to repair his forehead and right hand.
Eisen declined comment, other than to say, “I greatly appreciate the diligence of law enforcement and the U.S. attorney’s office, particularly Carrie Costantin, in bringing this to closure.”
Investigators said that on Oct. 15, 2008, Ohlsen placed a black-powder-and-gasoline device, hidden in a gift basket, next to an Acura TL in the garage at 190 Carondelet Plaza. Eisen, who used the garage for such a car, happened to be out of town.
The next day, Gillis, a lawyer unrelated to Ohlsen’s woes, moved the basket out of the way of his Aculra TL door, one level up from Eisen’s space, and was nearly killed in the orange flash.
Gillis suffered permanent injuries, Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Costantin said in court.
Ohlsen, a former political consultant and failed entrepreneur, had prepared a detailed dossier on Eisen, including his schedule and the vehicle he drove, court documents say.
Eisen not only opposed Ohlsen in family court but he also represented a longtime Ohlsen nemesis, Joel Hollenbeck in another case. Officials said Ohlsen believed that Eisen and others were involved in a conspiracy intended to see him dead or imprisoned.
One lawyer representing Ohlsen quit four months before the bombing, when Ohlsen reportedly said he was “losing it” and “was going to do something to hurt Eisen.”
Aaron Reid, a former police officer and Ohlsen friend, was prepared to testify that he drove Ohlsen to the area of the garage the day the bomb was set, and that Ohlsen apparently left a gift basket there. Reid said Ohlsen wore a hooded red poncho and sunglasses and carried a bouquet of balloons at the time; that matched the bomber’s disguise seen in garage surveillance pictures.
Reid pleaded guilty last year of misprision of a felony, admitting he concealed knowledge about the bombing after it happened. His sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 2.
Ohlsen, who turns 41 today, appeared Tuesday to be positioning himself for more litigation. He made special mention of retaining his right to appeal based on ineffective assistance of his lawyers and prosecutorial misconduct. When the judge asked if he understood the charges, Ohlsen responded, “I believe I do,” instead of providing a simple yes or no.
Asked if there were any witnesses on his behalf who weren’t contacted, Ohlsen replied, “Not before we proceed today, sir.”