AIKENS TRIAL: Witness who saw bomb go off at loan company said caller threatened her family
ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Continuing coverage of the Daniel Aikens trial, the man arrested after a Jan. 2, 2020 explosion outside of PayDay Today on MacArthur Drive. Check back for updates throughout the day.
Nov. 15, 5:00 p.m. update:
A Hobby Lobby loss prevention investigator testified about receipts, still photos and surveillance video that federal prosecutors believe shows Daniel Aikens buying parts to make bombs.
Philip Thrower, the Hobby Lobby employee, testified about receipts and footage from the West Monroe and Lafayette locations from Sept. 10, 2019, Dec. 19, 2019 and Dec. 21, 2019.
Thrower testified about the videos which reportedly show Aikens purchasing rocket motors, which were found in the pressure cooker bomb in Monroe. The customer, believed to be Aikens, paid in cash.
Hobby Lobby’s receipts don’t explicitly outline the items that were purchased - only which departments they came from and the price. Federal prosecutors contend purchases in the amount of $3.49 from the Toys & Hobbies department align with the price of a rocket motor.
Public defenders for Aikens claim that price could line up with multiple items in that department. They also questioned how Thrower was unable to independently retrieve the video himself from the Hobby Lobby system, pointing out that federal agents asked him to verify its authenticity. Thrower said the video was authentic and had not been altered - he described how he knew the videos came from the particular stores.
We also heard from an FBI special agent who was part of a team that collected evidence the weekend after the Alexandria explosion took place on Jan. 2, 2020. Investigators searched a field next to a Texaco on Jackson Street extension, where an explosion was reported a month before on Dec. 20, 2019. No one was injured.
The FBI went to that scene because they believed it could be connected to the PayDay Today explosion.
“Many times there has been a practice run to make sure the explosive will work,” the agent testified.
We also heard a 911 call from an unidentified male caller who called in that Dec. 20, 2019 explosion.
“There’s an explosion at the Texaco on Jackson...I was just passing by,” the caller told the 911 operator.
The caller was asked to stay on the line. He hung up.
Nov. 15, 4:30 p.m. update:
We heard from the woman who was working at PayDay Today loan company on MacArthur Drive in Alexandria on Jan. 2, 2020 - the day an explosion happened in the parking lot and a mysterious caller told the employee she needed to go to the bank and get him $10,000 or another bomb would go off and her children would be killed.
The woman - who we are not identifying by name for her safety - testified this afternoon. She said she arrived to work that day around 9:15 a.m. and around 9:30 a.m. a call came in with a 716 area code. She answered it on the office’s wireless phone.
“It was a weird number,” she told the jury. “We never had any area code call like that.”
The woman worked at the office alone. Her family often called to check on her for her safety.
The woman said that the male caller told her that his grandmother had lost her keys at the office and he asked her to look for them. She agreed and then he asked her to search the parking lot.
“He told me she may have been parked on the side closest to the store,” she said.
“I told him I couldn’t find them - all of a sudden, I hear a loud noise and I see pieces flying by like a bomb. Like something blew up,” the woman recalled of the explosion.
She was scared.
“I told him I had to call 911 because something blew up,” she said. “He asked what was that. I said I don’t know. I need to call 911. He said that was me.”
The woman cried on the stand as she described what happened next.
“I was in shock at that point. He told me to listen and to listen carefully. He knew my name and that I had children. He said there was another bomb on the building and one on my vehicle,” she said.
“He asked me if we had money. He said he wanted me to go to the bank and get $10,000,” she told the jury.
The woman said the man’s voice changed and his demeanor. She was instructed not to call police.
“He threatened to kill my kids,” she said.
As this was going on, the woman’s fiancé began to call. She realized the man on the phone was watching her.
“The caller told me not to tell him (fiancé) anything or sound upset,” she said.
The caller asked her to call him from her cellphone as she drove to the bank for the money.
“I decided to go across the street to the store (the Valero gas station). He asked me what I was doing. I told him I felt like I was going to pass out - I needed water. He said that was fine, don’t hang up.”
She went into the Valero and hung up and notified everyone inside about what was happening. Someone else called 911.
“He starts calling back.”
Another woman answered - didn’t say anything - just put him on speaker.
“What the f*** are you doing b****? You’re supposed to be going to the bank!”
The woman’s fiancé met her at the gas station after an employee called him off her phone. Police started to arrive at this point.
Nov. 15, 1:30 p.m. update:
Federal prosecutors believe before Daniel Aikens allegedly set off an explosion outside of PayDay Today loan company on MacArthur Drive in Alexandria on Jan. 2, 2020, he set off a pressure cooker bomb in a beauty school parking lot in Monroe on Sept. 12, 2019.
Senior Special Agent Theresa Meza with the ATF, who was on the Monroe scene after a trashcan exploded outside of Cloyd’s Beauty School, testified for the government.
Meza said when she got to the scene, she found a melted trash can and recovered from the area a blasted pressure cooker, a can of parts cleaner, butane bottles, a mouse trap wired to a battery, a rocket motor, black smokeless powder, and fishing line.
“I found a large amount at the scene. It had black on it, possibly soot,” said Meza of the fishing line.
The ATF investigation would later lead them to Hobby Lobby, where they believe the rocket motor was sold.
The beauty school’s owner, Joseph Matthew, was injured in the blast. He told the jury that it happened when he was putting cardboard boxes into the trashcan.
“My face was burned, my hair was burned, my arms were blistered,” he said.
Matthew said he didn’t know Daniel Aikens, who prosecutors allege put the bomb in the trashcan.
Matthew Simon, a forensic chemist with the ATF, later testified that “double-based smokeless black powder” was found inside the rocket motor - which he said is not manufactured that way.
As we took a lunch break, a loss prevention officer with Hobby Lobby was on the stand going over receipts, still photos and videos that the government believes show Aikens purchasing those items.
Government witnesses are being called for day two of the Daniel Aikens trial in the federal courthouse in Alexandria. Aikens was arrested after a Jan. 2, 2020 explosion outside of PayDay Today on MacArthur Drive.
He pleaded “not guilty” in October to a series of charges in a second superseding indictment. He faces three counts each of making a destructive device and possession of a destructive device in violation of the National Firearms Act. He also faces one count each of using an explosive to commit a federal felony and conveying malicious false information.
Aikens is accused of demanding $10,000 from the loan company after exploding a device in a trashcan nearby. He was arrested when his white Jeep Cherokee was spotted by the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office. Investigators had developed Aikens as a suspect by tracing the phone number he called from to a burner phone he purchased the previous month from a Dollar General.
A jury was selected by Monday afternoon and opening arguments happened around 4 p.m.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jamilla Bynog called Aikens a “man on a mission.”
“A mission to cause fear, a mission to extort, and a mission to make and use bombs,” Bynog told the jury.
Bynog told the jury they will see Aikens purchase items needed to make bombs, data from his phone, conversations from his phone about making bombs, bomb-making manuals he had downloaded, as well as cell phone searches for each of the bombing locations - referencing an explosion that happened on Dec. 20, 2019, at a Texaco on Jackson Street, and a Sept. 12, 2019 pressure cooker bomb explosion outside a beauty school in Monroe that they believe he’s responsible for.
Bynog also said the jury would see cell phone searches and downloads for “how to make a pressure cooker bomb”. She said Aikens at the end of the trial the jury should find Aikens “guilty as charged for the Anarchy of Aikens.”
Federal public defender, Natalie Awad, told the jury the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is on the prosecution.
She said Aikens pleaded “not guilty” to all charges and is entitled to a presumption of innocence.
“Truly a whodunit case,” said Awad.
Awad said the defense is not saying something didn’t explode, but it was not Aikens who caused it. No DNA was found at the Texaco or at PayDay Today loans. She also said no eyewitnesses can identify Aikens.
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