Earl Moore gets life for bombing attempt at Southwest Plaza on Columbine anniversary

Categories: Colorado Crimes

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Big pics below.
When news broke last year that Earl Moore had been charged with a single count of arson for placing an explosive device in Southwest Plaza mall on the anniversary of the attack on nearby Columbine High School, locals feared he'd receive relatively light punishment. But no: Moore has been sentenced to life in prison for the scheme, which produced far more fear than damage.

As we reported in our original coverage, on view below, Moore, who's now 66, committed crimes aplenty over the years but didn't exactly qualify as a kingpin.

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Moore in profile.
Example: In 2004, the owners of the Pines apartments reportedly filed paperwork to evict Moore from an apartment where he'd lived for four years, and two banks hit him with civil actions, claiming debts of more than $10,000.

That same year, Moore headed to an area Costco with a knife -- but he didn't stick anyone up. Instead, he used it to slit the inner lining of his jacket, which he filled up with 24 storage discs valued at more than $1,500. Moore was stopped by cops outside the store, and he didn't put up a fight, saying, "I did it.... I got caught."

Authorities offered Moore a plea of two years probation for the offense, but rather than accept this deal, Moore skipped out on his sentencing hearing. The warrant subsequently issued in his name was still active in March 2005, when he was caught after stealing just over $2,500 from a West Virginia bank.

Moore was shipped to a Georgia prison for this heist, winning his release in early April 2011. About a week later, on the evening of April 19, he allegedly purchased propane tanks at a Target store near Southwest Plaza. Then, at 11:43 a.m. the next morning -- a time of day very close to when the Columbine assault got underway on April 20, 1999 -- he stepped through an employee entrance carrying a red and white bag of the sort Target uses. A minute later, he exited without it.

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A Moore tat.
Moments later, at 11:52 a.m., an employee at Al's Formal Wear smelled smoke and saw flames coming from what looked like propane tanks. Fire responders soon found the tanks, some matches and a steel pipe bomb -- more than enough to prompt an evacuation of the mall. Also there: what appeared to be a burnt Target bag.

Had this incident taken place on any other day, and in any other location, it might have received modest local news coverage and been promptly forgotten. But because it happened on the Columbine anniversary within spitting distance of the school, the act quickly became an international story even as it freaked out locals fearful that a lethal copycat was on the loose.

Meanwhile, police at the local and federal level flew into action, and it didn't take long for them to uncover surveillance footage of a man matching Moore's description at the mall and on an RTD bus. By April 23, they had a DNA match, which led to the formal naming of Moore as a suspect, as well as his later capture at a Boulder King Soopers on April 26.

So...was Moore's act intended as a Columbine homage. Not according to what he told investigators. He insisted that he didn't have any clue about the anniversary.

This claim didn't lessen the enthusiasm with which the U.S. Attorney's Office in Colorado prosecuted Moore. And yesterday, he was sentenced not for simple arson, as was originally anticipated, but for use of a destructive device during and in relation to a crime of violence -- a charge to which he pleaded guilty. As noted by the Denver Post, Moore had hoped for a thirty-year sentence, but Judge John Kane didn't concur even though the would-be bomber's health is dubious; he's got prostate cancer and has tested positive for Hepatitis C. Hence, his criminal history -- nine felonies total -- was capped with a life sentence.

Below, check out the sequence of events that led to Moore's first court appearance, complete with photos, sketches and various criminal records.

Update, 11:27 a.m. April 27, 2011: At 2 p.m. this afternoon, Earl Albert Moore is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Denver to be advised of the charges against him in relation to an attempted bombing at Southwest Plaza mall on the twelfth anniversary of the shootings at nearby Columbine High School. However, Moore isn't being accused of a terrorist attack or the like. Instead, he faces a single count of arson.

Does that mean the timing of Moore's act was entirely coincidental rather than targeted at Columbine and the immediate community, many members of which were re-traumatized by school lockdowns and a heavy police presence on that fateful date? The U.S. Attorney's Office isn't saying at this point -- and there's no specific reference to motive in the Moore arrest report, on view below.

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The timeline? Moore is said to have purchased propane tanks at a Target store more or less adjacent to Southwest Plaza on April 19, the night before the attack. Then, at 11:43 a.m. the next day -- a time of day very close to when the Columbine assault got underway -- he stepped through an employee entrance carrying a red and white bag of the sort Target uses. A minute later, he exited without it.

Moments later, at 11:52 a.m., an employee at Al's Formal Wear smelled smoke and saw flames coming from what looked like propane tanks. Fire responders soon found the tanks, some matches and a steel pipe bomb -- more than enough to prompt an evacuation of the mall. Also there: what appeared to be a burnt Target bag.

It didn't take investigators long to locate surveillance footage of a man matching Moore's description at the mall and an RTD bus; one of the images is seen here. And by April 23, they had a DNA match. That led to the formal naming of Moore as a suspect, as well as his subsequent capture, at a Boulder King Soopers yesterday morning.

An arson conviction carries with it five-to-twenty year sentence in federal prison and the possibility of a $250,000 fine. But there's no guarantee of answers for why Moore allegedly did what he did, and when.

Read the complaint below. Then page down to read our previous coverage.

Earl Albert Moore Complaint

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