PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — Authorities arrested a man Thursday on federal charges of setting a New Year’s fire that gutted a Florida Panhandle abortion clinic long targeted by violence and protests.
Bobby Joe Rogers, 41, of was charged with one count of Damaging a Building by Fire or Explosive and was being held at the Escambia County Jail, authorities said. He could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Investigators said tips from the Pensacola community led to Rogers’ arrest.
The state Fire Marshall’s office said early Thursday that Roger’s was from Tuscaloosa, Ala., but later in the day the U.S. Attorney’s Office said he was from Pensacola without elaborating further.
Investigators from a federal joint terrorism task force and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined the investigation headed by the state fire marshal.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office said late Thursday that Rogers had a brief preliminary hearing. The office said he had waived his right to detention hearing and to a preliminary hearing and had agree to be represented by the federal public defender’s office.
An affidavit detailing the circumstances of Rogers arrest was sealed by the court clerk, but prosecutors had requested that it be unsealed. Len Register, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said the affidavit could be made public later Thursday or on Friday.
Little is known about Rogers and the brief booking information listed by the Escambia County Jail did not include an address.
Records from Alachua County show that he was arrested on Dec. 12, 2009, on charges of vehicle theft. Art Forgey, spokesman for the Alachua County Sheriff’s office said jail records show Rogers spent three months in the Alachua County Jail. Court records from the Alachua County case were not immediately available.
Rogers could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted on charges related to the use of explosives.
The two-story clinic that was gutted by flames early Sunday has been attacked before. It was bombed on Christmas Day in 1984, and in 1994 a doctor and a volunteer who escorted patients to and from the clinic were shot to death as they arrived. The gunman, Paul Hill, was executed in 2003.
No one was hurt in Sunday’s fire, which was reported around 1 a.m.
Investigators said the blaze began behind the clinic in a wooded area and that the building burned without notice for a while because of the dense fog that had settled over the region that morning.
American Family Planning has been the site of near-daily protests with anti-abortion activists carrying Bibles, crosses and signs, but the violence that marked the clinic in the mid1990s had stopped before the New Year’s blaze.
Pensacola was the site of other abortion-related violence in 1993 when Dr. David Gunn was shot and killed at another clinic by an abortion protester.
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