Would-be Palisade High School bomber gets deferred sentence
A student jailed in September after trying to obtain explosives and threatening to “go Columbine” on Palisade High School has a chance to avoid a felony conviction.
Robert Dell Johnson, 18, received a four-year deferred judgment, in addition to two years of probation, after pleading guilty Wednesday to felony solicitation to possess an explosive or incendiary device. Johnson pleaded guilty to a separate misdemeanor count of interference with school operations.
The deferred judgment means Johnson’s felony will be wiped away if he stays out of trouble over the next four years and completes 150 hours of community service. District Judge Valerie Robison also ordered Johnson to obtain his GED and complete drug and alcohol treatment.
Michelle Devlin, Johnson’s attorney, said her client intends to pursue his high school diploma online. A restraining order says he can’t step on the grounds of a Mesa County school, public or private, over the next four years.
“Choose your friends wisely,” Robison said in parting.
Johnson was apologetic, saying he has no contact with a group of friends he described as “stupid” and who he said guided him down a wrong path.
“I’ve dropped them all,” Johnson told the judge. “I’m sorry I said that stuff. I wasn’t thinking, and I’m not going to hang out with those people again.”
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Johnson could have been jailed up to 18 months.
Johnson was arrested Sept. 28 by the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department after a student at Palisade High, Calvin O’Banion, 18, told authorities Johnson had twice approached him, starting Sept. 18, asking how to get explosives, specifically C-4 or dynamite. An arrest affidavit said Johnson admitted to an investigator he had talked about going out in a blaze of glory, “like Columbine High School.”
Authorities who later searched Johnson’s home and friends’ homes found no evidence of a plot to strike the school.
Johnson recently moved to the Grand Valley with his family from a small town in Montana and sought to fit in with his new peers, Devlin said.
“A lot of people talk without thinking,” she told the judge.
Devlin suggested that 99 days served in the Mesa County Jail, missing holidays and the recent deaths of several people close to his family made a strong impression on her client.
“He’s been vilified for several months, while people in the jail have called him ‘Unabomber’ or ‘bin Laden,’ ” Devlin told the judge. “But instead of getting mad, he’s moved on.”
Johnson was expected to be released from jail Wednesday.