A man who hurled a brick through the front door of the federal courthouse in Columbus was convicted Tuesday of "malice mischief" after an unusual two-day trial in the same building he damaged.
Lance Emanuel Brown, who said he was facing desperate circumstances, never denied throwing the brick last July that shattered a glass door and caused some $1,400 in damage. But he insisted on going to trial to tell jurors about his failed attempts to avoid homelessness in Columbus.
"I knew that I would be arrested for throwing the brick," Brown told jurors. "It made me happy that nobody was hurt."
U.S. District Judge Clay D. Land scheduled an expedited sentencing for next week, suggesting Brown, who has been in custody since his arrest, may be eligible to be released on time served.
The case marked the second time in recent months that a federal defendant admitted to a crime in Columbus on the ostensible grounds of seeking food and shelter from the government. Edward Pascucci, a former Columbus police officer sentenced to more than five years in prison, sounded a similar note when he explained that he was trying to avoid a life on the streets when he robbed a bank with an unloaded gun last year and was quickly arrested.
On Tuesday, Land extinguished any chance that jurors might consider Brown's plight an affirmative defense, ruling he failed to exhaust available remedies and wasn't faced with imminent danger. Brown, the judge noted, also declined a list of resources and cash offered to him by two probation officers who met with him shortly before he lobbed the brick.
Brown, 36, had asked what he needed to do to return to prison and then threatened President Barack Obama in that meeting, but the officers did not deem the threat credible.
"I thought it was a simple way of, at least for a few hours, being detained somewhere," Brown testified, "and someone's going to offer me a sandwich and drink."
Disheveled and at times inaudible, Brown testified at length about an ill-conceived plan he hatched to sell his belongings and move from the Florida Keys to the Chattahoochee National Forest in north Georgia.
"It was doomed from the beginning," said Brown, a New York native who attended college and has worked in various fields. "I think it was too much change in too short a period of time."
When that failed, Brown said he suffered a nervous breakdown and found himself being shuffled between mental health facilities, eventually landing at the West Central Georgia Regional Hospital in Columbus. After a brief stay there, he found a bed at a local homeless shelter, but was asked to leave after a "verbal dispute" with another resident.
From there, Brown said he applied for emergency food stamps and explored a number of other options with no luck. With the weekend rapidly approaching, he said he was facing at least another two nights out on the street if he wasn't taken into custody.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mel Hyde said Brown's circumstances were no excuse for breaking the law. He called Brown a "narcissistic manipulator" who sought to "play the system" and waste government resources.
Brown's sentencing is scheduled for May 1.