The Plot To Assassinate Arpaio
Sheriff Joe Arpaio stood on the front porch of his home, grinning, patiently waiting for a television news team to begin yet another interview.
The 67-year-old sheriff rehearsed the lines he uses to buff his image as the self-proclaimed "America's Toughest Sheriff." He reminisced about his federal Drug Enforcement Administration days and his "gun battles in Turkey and all that" before segueing into the subject at hand -- the countless death threats he's received.
"I'm getting so many of these. It's really the ones you don't know about that I worry about," Arpaio said.
"How do you feel?" the KTVK-TV Channel 3 reporter asked on the evening of July 9.
"I feel great," the sheriff said.
"Really?" the reporter asked. Even in the wake of the arrest of 18-year-old James Brian Saville, who just hours earlier had allegedly plotted to put a pipe bomb on your armored car?
"I don't like it, but I'm used to these threats," said Arpaio. "At least we knew who this one was."
The sheriff amplified his tough-guy act, using his best John Wayne inflection to describe the televised arrest of Saville in an elaborate sting operation that culminated that afternoon in the parking lot of the Roman Table Restaurant. Arpaio was inside, sipping tea, when the bust went down.
"Well, we took this guy off the street," Arpaio said of Saville, who was released from prison the day before his arrest. ". . . So we got him. That's what I'm happy about. He's back in prison where he belongs."
Actually, Saville was in Arpaio's jail as a criminal suspect, not in prison. But that such distinctions are lost on Arpaio has been clear for some time.
In any case, Arpaio was just getting warmed up. He said Saville's alleged murder attempt and similar such threats don't intimidate him. He promised to keep walking tall in the face of mortal danger.
"And the day that comes when I can't go to the public, that I'm afraid to talk to the public, is the day I leave this job," he said.
"So that's not going to happen. I'm still going to the public. If they think they are going to scare me away with bombs and everything else, it's not going to bother me."
Saville's arrest made great television footage for the 5 p.m. news. The Sheriff's Office actually tipped off KSAZ-TV Channel 10, which was rolling tape as sheriff's deputies swooped in to arrest Saville at 3 p.m.
The arrest was followed at 4:15 p.m. by a news conference held by MCSO chief deputy David Hendershott. TV news reporters worked on a very tight deadline. The bomb Saville allegedly had built was displayed, as were drawings allegedly confiscated from Saville's prison cell and undercover video footage of Saville building the device.
"This subject is predisposed to make explosive devices to kill people," Hendershott announced.
Hendershott, the No. 2 official at the Sheriff's Office, was so interested in Saville's arrest that he was at the scene, wielding a gun, long after the unarmed suspect had been taken away.
News of the attempted assassination sent reporters scurrying to interview Arpaio, who had returned to his Scottsdale home to "comfort his wife," according to Hendershott.
Channel 10 repaid the Sheriff's Office for being invited along for the bust, airing an interview with the sheriff and his wife, with news anchor John Hook commenting on Arpaio's bravery.
Channel 3's interview with Arpaio ended with the sheriff extolling the virtues of his $70,000 armored car, which, he boasted, "is supposed to be missile proof, bomb proof and gun proof."
"I took some criticism [for] using dope-peddlers' money to buy that armored car," he says incredulously. "Criticism. Even if the bomb did go off . . . I presume I would have been protected in that car. Isn't that great timing? No pun intended."
Score another media coup for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, whose primary and enduring mission has become to generate the most publicity possible for Arpaio -- local, national and international -- at any cost.
Even if it requires setting up a troubled, impressionable and scared kid who was recruited by a mentally ill prison snitch and coached into committing a "newsworthy" crime that could bring a life sentence.
As Channel 3 wrapped up its interview with Arpaio, a few miles across town, Maricopa County sheriff's detective Antone Jacobs was conducting a three-hour interrogation of Saville.
About halfway through the interview, Saville had had enough.
"Shit, man, where's the fucking lawyer?" Saville asked.
Seconds later, Saville began to weep, saying he never intended to kill anyone but that he's a "pyromaniac" who built a contraption based on a design he drew up after watching a television show.
Saville told Jacobs he never intended to complete the bomb, which he says was never armed with explosives. He agreed to the idea after a sheriff's undercover officer offered him $4,000 to build it, including a $2,000 payment before the weapon was even complete.
Instead of the cold-hearted killer described by Hendershott, transcripts of Saville's interrogation portray a deeply insecure kid who literally cries out for psychiatric help. A tearful Saville tells Jacobs he believes he belongs in "a mental institution." He admits he'd rather serve prison time than face the temptations that come with probation.
New Times' review of hundreds of pages of police reports, court documents and undercover transcripts reveals a troubling series of events that led to Saville's arrest just one day after he was released from the Arizona State Prison-Perryville, including:
In setting up the assassination plot, MCSO relied almost exclusively on a prison snitch who has been diagnosed as mentally ill and dying of AIDS. The snitch, a white-collar criminal whose cooperation in other cases has helped him get reduced sentences, met at least four times with sheriff's detectives, who told him what to say to Saville.
The crucial letter the snitch wrote to sound the alarm about Saville barely mentions Arpaio. Instead, the snitch wrote, Saville had told him he wanted to kill the judge and prosecutor who had sent him to prison.
Once the snitch's letter was given to the Sheriff's Office, "upper management" became "very interested" in the case, state Department of Corrections records show.
Hendershott told reporters that Saville's written "game plan" to kill the sheriff had been seized. Records reveal no such "game plan" to kill anyone.
Sheriff's detectives grew frustrated when Saville rarely mentioned Arpaio during six days of taped conversations between the snitch and Saville. They encouraged the snitch to get Saville to talk about his supposed plan to kill Arpaio. At one point, the snitch told Saville: "You want to kill Joe."
The snitch gave Saville the phone number of an undercover sheriff's officer and urged him to call before he was released from prison. The officer, posing as a Mafia hit man, offered Saville $4,000 to build a bomb.
After Saville's release, the undercover officer gave him $200 to buy parts for the weapon, drove Saville around town to purchase the parts, rented a hotel room where the device could be partially assembled and drove Saville to the Roman Table -- though the "bomb" remained in the hotel room. Saville told Jacobs he was scared to back out of the deal because he thought the undercover officer might be a mobster who might kill him or his family if he did.
"I think that once all this stuff comes out, it's going to show this kid was set up," said Saville's public defender, Ulises Ferragut Jr. "He was not predisposed to kill the sheriff, and we'll be showing that."
The Arizona Attorney General's Office will prosecute Saville, who was indicted by a grand jury on July 23 for conspiracy to commit murder and weapons charges.
Arpaio appears to be obsessed with the possibility of martyrdom. In addition to his expensive armored car, Arpaio and his wife, Ava, have given many interviews discussing the subject of his personal safety. The MCSO Web site tells of a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of someone who allegedly threatened Arpaio in May 1998.
In April, a bomb squad was called to the sheriff's home after a metal spider sculpture turned up in front of his house. No explosives were found in the sculpture.
Events that led to James Saville's arrest began with a June 23 letter from Perryville prison inmate Mike Burrows (not his real name) to a Sun City spiritual adviser.
"I have recently learned of a plot to kill a superior court judge and a prosecutor," Burrows wrote in the second paragraph. Burrows said the plot centered on Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Paul Katz and prosecutor Jim Blake.
Burrows claimed an unidentified fellow inmate had given him "explicit details on how he was going to do it." He wrote that the man was "quite knowledgeable" about bombs and would get out of prison soon.
Burrows wrote that he was worried that two of his friends who are prosecutors could be hurt if the inmate successfully mailed a bomb to the County Attorney's Office.
Burrows stated in the seventh paragraph of the letter that the inmate "talks about killing Sheriff Joe also."
The letter asked the religious adviser to "call the judge and prosecutor" and ask them what to do.
Burrows is no stranger at communicating with judges and prosecutors. He's spent a good part of the past two years writing to judges, begging to be released from prison before he dies of AIDS.
He's also fed information to the state in exchange for reductions in prison time. In at least one instance, he had felony drug charges dismissed in exchange for testimony in a murder trial; he provided evidence he obtained while in prison, records show.
Burrows, 34, has been in and out of prison most of his adult life. In the early 1980s, while living in another state, he was convicted of passing bad checks and imprisoned. He moved to Phoenix in the early 1990s and racked up numerous arrests that landed him in the county jail in 1996. By April 1997, he had seven felony convictions, including passing bad checks and forgery. He was sent to a state prison in late '97. His current sentence was handed down in February. He expects to be released from prison in November 2000.
"The victims in all of these cases are traumatized, not only for the losses they incurred, but from the havoc he has reeked [sic] in their lives," Burrows' probation officer wrote in a 1997 presentence report.
The report stated that Burrows is "a fraudulently oriented person and should not be allowed to roam free in society. He has shown no concern for other people and for the great pain he has caused them."
Burrows admits in letters to judges that he suffers from manic depression. Court documents state he has been treated for mood and antisocial personality disorders. Burrows states he was treated in an East Valley hospital after attempting suicide in November 1996.
In February 1997, Burrows was diagnosed with AIDS while incarcerated at the Maricopa County Jail. He wrote in letters to judges that he contracted the disease from unscreened blood he received when he was treated in the early 1980s for leukemia. In other letters to judges, he said he contracted the disease when he was beaten and raped in an out-of-state prison. Burrows claimed his wife and young son also have the disease.
Burrows stepped up his correspondence with judges after receiving an additional 3.5-year prison sentence in February 1999 on a theft conviction; he had sold a car after altering its title.
In a March letter to a judge, Burrows said his incarceration at Perryville "has truly scared the hell out of me. God I pray to either take me in my sleep or please let someone here [sic] my cry."
In a May letter, Burrows told a judge he was "losing my battle with AIDS" and reminds the judge that "I helped put two murderers in prison and I did not get what was promised."
Burrows then came into contact with Saville, who was nearing the end of his 1.5-year prison sentence for attempting to blow up Maryvale High School.
Less than three weeks later, Burrows sent the first of two letters to his spiritual adviser warning of Saville's utterances about killing Katz and Blake.
The spiritual adviser forwarded the June 23 letter to the sheriff's substation in Sun City. A week later, on June 30, sheriff's detective Antone Jacobs called the Department of Corrections to discuss Burrows' letter about an inmate interested in "making bombs and killing Superior Court Judge Katz, County Prosecutor James Blake and possible [sic] Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio."
Later that day, Jacobs and detective Phil Dougherty went to the Perryville prison and conducted a 110-minute interview with Burrows.
The detective's notes from that interview indicate that Burrows only mentioned Saville's threat toward Arpaio after the detectives had reminded him that his letter mentioned Arpaio.
Burrows told the detectives that Saville made the comment, "If I killed Sheriff Joe, I would be a hero." He said the comment was made after inmates saw news accounts of the spider sculpture episode.
"This was the only thing that [Burrows] talked about directed towards Sheriff Arpaio," detective Dougherty's notes say.
During the interview, Burrows agreed to help the detectives and to testify about Saville's alleged threats. Burrows said he didn't expect anything in exchange for his help, but added that he was concerned for the welfare of his prosecutor friends -- one of whom helped get the drug charge dismissed.
At the end of the interview, Burrows agreed to give the detectives two documents -- a rough sketch of how to construct a pipe bomb and a paper listing Web sites and addresses for various materials such as bulletproof vests, ID cards and tactical gear -- that he had pilfered from Saville.
The interview marked the beginning of an intimate relationship between the Sheriff's Office and Burrows, who would soon become the department's primary agent in conducting the sting.
"You know I've got the good side and then the evil side," James Brian Saville told detective Antone Jacobs during his post-arrest interrogation.
"One wants to be a good person, and I'd really love to be a good person, you know. I wanted to work for NASA, wanted to be an astronaut. I want to be a scientist, anything like that. I wanted to build things for NASA. Well, that's never gonna happen," he said.
What about the evil side? Jacobs asks.
"Well, that's the side that likes to burn things," Saville says, adding that "it will probably take a therapist to figure out that."
He added, "I guess I'm a pyro.
Saville said he enjoys igniting Molotov cocktails. Saville said he and friends made bombs out of pool acid in plastic bottles. They would float the acid bombs down canals and listen to the loud explosions.
The pranks evolved into something much more serious. In October 1997, Saville and a friend entered Maryvale High School to steal equipment from the science labs. They vandalized the school, causing more than $10,000 in damage.
They left racist graffiti in an attempt to incite a race riot, Saville later told police. On the way out of the school, Saville and his accomplice turned on 36 gas valves in the science lab "to try and cause a flash fire and burn down the building," Saville told investigators.
One of the boys lit Bunsen burners in an adjacent room before fleeing. The boys went to Saville's home and climbed into his tree house, where they had a view of the high school. They waited for it to erupt into flames. It never did.
Police who entered the building luckily didn't open the door to the room where the burners were lit, avoiding what firefighters said was a potentially fatal explosion.
The incident landed Saville -- who had just turned 17 -- in adult court, because he was on juvenile probation at the time for a series of undisclosed offenses.
Saville pleaded guilty to attempted arson of an unoccupied structure in April 1998.
Prior to the sentencing, prosecutor Jim Blake told the court that Saville "shows no regard for people, property or society. He did not care if anyone was killed because of his action."
His mother offered a different view.
"Because he is a little shy and unsure of himself, he has a hard time steering clear of certain friends who are a bad influence on him," Rebecca Belanger wrote to Judge Katz.
Her son, she stated, thrived when he attended a boot camp program called Project Challenge, operated by the Army National Guard. He earned his GED there in January 1997.
"He was self-assured, confident, he respected himself and others. James' graduation was the proudest moment in his life and in mine," she wrote.
But soon after her son's graduation, Belanger developed marital problems with Saville's stepfather that required her to seek a protection order. Saville tried to help his mother with bills; he gave her $700 in graduation money -- the most money he'd ever had.
In October 1997, Saville and a friend ran away from home and set up camp in South Mountain Park. They broke into two cars to get money for food and Saville later sold a sawed-off shotgun.
A few days later, the boys vandalized Maryvale High School.
Prior to Saville's sentencing, adult probation officer Michael Watts submitted his evaluation of Saville to Judge Katz. "The defendant has demonstrated by his successful completion of Project Challenge that he does well following orders," Watts wrote, recommending a one-year jail sentence followed by extensive supervised probation.
"His young age of 17 makes this officer believe that there is some hope of modifying his behavior through community supervision," Watts stated.
Katz sentenced Saville to 18 months in prison and five years of intensive probation.
Saville served his term without major incident. Prison records and statements he made indicate he kept to himself, watched lots of television, drew crude plans for perpetual energy machines and guns, missiles and pipe bombs.
Saville told undercover detectives he dreamed of fleeing to California, getting a fake passport and skipping out to Mexico or Amsterdam. He studied credit-card scams.
Saville also struggled with isolation and despair, sometimes recording his feelings in verse:
"I have lost the will to live
Simply nothing more for me
I need the end to set me free
From this pain and agony.
Hold my breath as I wish for death
Oh! Please god wake me."
When Saville was finally released on the afternoon of July 8, instead of receiving "community supervision" as urged by his probation officer, Saville walked into a conspiracy that would put him behind bars again within hours.
On July 1, the day after sheriff's detectives Antone Jacobs and Phil Dougherty interviewed informant Burrows at Perryville, the Sheriff's Office asked the Department of Corrections to bug Saville's cell.
Dougherty told DOC investigator Robert F. Martz that MCSO "upper management was very interested in this case and would appreciate any assistance we can offer them," DOC records show.
The evening before, prison guards had searched Saville's cell and confiscated more than 15 pages of notes, including crude diagrams of a pipe bomb, detonating rockets, formulas for LSD, nitroglycerin and TNT as well as a listing of Internet sites containing data on body armor and recipes for explosives.
On July 2, DOC agreed to bug Saville. He and Burrows were moved to adjoining cells that were locked down 24 hours a day -- except for trips to a recreation yard and Burrows' frequent meetings with sheriff's investigators. The bug was placed in an air duct that ran between the two cells.
The recording began at 6:45 p.m. on July 2. The Attorney General's Office has released written descriptions of the Saville-Burrows conversations that sheriff's investigators monitored around the clock. Copies of the tapes have not been released. Likewise, one transcript of sheriff's investigators' four meetings with Burrows has been released -- details of the other three meetings come from investigators' notes of those conversations.
On the morning of July 3, Burrows tried to jump-start the conversation with Saville, whom he couldn't see.
"Fuck prison, fuck Joe, fuck the Sheriff's Office," eavesdropping deputies quoted Burrows as saying.
"I'm just gonna keep my mouth shut," replied Saville, who was suspicious in the wake of the seizure of his papers and transfer to lockdown.
At 9 a.m., Burrows was taken to an interview room where he met with MCSO detectives for a second time.
Dougherty wrote that Burrows "continued to stress on how real he thought the threats were against Judge Katz and Jim Blake. He felt the threats on Sheriff Arpaio were just as real, but talked about the threats on Judge Katz and Jim Blake much more."
The detectives asked Burrows "if he felt he [Saville] was just as serious about the threats on Sheriff Arpaio as he was about the other two and [Burrows] felt that Saville was. He explained that Judge Katz and Jim Blake were a revenge type thing and Sheriff Arpaio was more notoriety."
Conversation between Burrows and Saville bore little fruit until the evening of July 5, when records indicate the two men began "discussing how to rig a bomb on a car so that when it starts it blows."
Saville reportedly said "he would like to stick a pipe in the spokes of Sheriff Joe's motorcycle" and then mentioned "that he would like just to shoot him."
Saville said he wanted to deliver a poisoned pizza to Arpaio's house. "He would deliver it to his house and when he [Arpaio] said he didn't order it, give it to him for free," surveillance reports state.
The conversation shifted to "how to frame someone else if a bomb was used." Ever the pyromaniac, Saville stated "that if he did kill someone and was about to get caught he would blow himself up."
The talk ended around 11 p.m. when Saville said that it couldn't be that hard to get the sheriff.
"[Burrows] tried to get the suspect to talk more about it and the suspect told [Burrows] to 'Go to sleep.'"
The next day, July 6, Burrows was again taken from his cell to meet with detectives. Burrows said that Saville was talking more but that most of their conversations were taking place while they were in a recreation area and were not recorded.
"I explained to [Burrows] that we knew a lot about his plan for Judge Katz and Jim Blake, but as we asked him before we needed more information on Sheriff Arpaio," Dougherty wrote.
The detective's report stated that Burrows said, "Arpaio, he wants to hit but he [Saville] does not know when he wants to do anything. [Burrows] said he tried to find out when he was going to do anything. Saville just says he cannot do anything because he knows he is going to be watched when he gets out, due to the materials found in his cell."
Then, according to Dougherty's report, Burrows said that "Saville has talked about how he can get the things he needs for bombs by breaking back into schools."
"At this point we asked [Burrows] if he thought Saville would be interested in a person that could get the items for him, instead of having to break into schools," Dougherty wrote.
Burrows said Saville would be interested. Burrows also stated that Saville might be interested in a "murder for hire" deal that would net him enough money to skip out on probation.
Dougherty wrote that he asked Burrows whether Saville would make a deal with an undercover officer posing as one of Burrow's friends. The friend, "Yancy," would be depicted as someone who hates Arpaio.
"After this," Dougherty told Burrows to "explain to Saville that Yancy has a lot of money and maybe he [Saville] could make a bomb for him."
Dougherty gave Burrows the undercover officer's number, and "it was explained to Burrows to get Saville to call the number."
Burrows immediately went to work on Saville.
Surveillance records from July 7 indicate Burrows told Saville he wanted to talk to him during recreation about whether Saville was interested in making a few thousand dollars after his release, which was scheduled in two days.
Burrows told Saville he had a friend who wanted Saville to build him a "package."
Saville "said why didn't you say so? I can make 10 of those," surveillance records show.
"[Burrows] said his friend hates Joe. Target [Saville] said he would make a good one. Burrows offering 3-4 thousand for bomb. . . . [Burrows] says that friend will set him [Saville] up with more jobs," records state.
Surveillance records indicate that Saville was "hesitant about a face to face with friend."
Saville stated he wanted to see money and would need a fake passport.
Burrows told Saville that his friend was involved in contract murders.
"Are you my man?" Burrows asked.
Saville replied that he could build the bomb.
Burrows told Saville that his friend's name was Yancy. Surveillance records note that Saville again appeared to be hesitant.
"Target worried about taking out Joe," records state.
Nevertheless, Saville agreed to call Yancy. Saville also told Burrows he was worried that he'd be followed by his probation officer. Burrows simply told Saville "not to worry about it."
At 7:46 p.m., Burrows passed Yancy's phone number to Saville.
Saville started commenting on tools and explosives he had. He talked about selling the bomb, and wanted to know if he would have to place it on the car. Burrows, meanwhile, kept insisting that Saville contact Yancy as soon as he was released.
Saville called Yancy later that evening from a pay phone inside the prison. Details of that conversation have not been released.
After returning to his cell, Saville apparently told Burrows about the call. Records indicate that the conversation about Saville's phone call to Yancy "is very rich" but provides no details.
The next morning, July 7, Burrows met again with detectives.
"It was explained to [Burrows] that at this point he needed to let Saville do the talking about making a bomb and killing somebody," the detectives' report states.
Detectives told Burrows to avoid conversation about what Yancy wanted done and to only stress to Saville the importance of calling Yancy once he left prison.
Burrows said that he never told Saville "exactly what Yancy would want a bomb built for" -- though he raised the possibility the bomb could be for Arpaio. Burrows told the investigators that Saville told him he would take credit for killing Arpaio, according to Dougherty's report.
Surveillance records indicate that Burrows "sheds light on killing Sheriff Joe and tells Saville he [Saville] would be loved." Burrows told Saville about the big party he'd throw after Saville blew up Arpaio. Burrows asked Saville "what his theme song is going to be when he blows up Sheriff Joe."
Later that day, Saville started talking about the "bomb job" and inquiring about getting paid and set up in an apartment. The surveillance tapes state that Saville "sounds like he is possibly getting anxious."
Burrows tried to soothe Saville, telling him that Yancy may think the bomb is "worth a lot more money."
After a recreation break, Burrows once again brought up the bombing.
"You want to kill Joe. So does he [Yancy]," Burrows said, according to surveillance records.
Saville mentioned that he wanted a parade in his honor after he killed Arpaio. Burrows told Saville that after he killed Arpaio, "he will be a big hero."
The next day, July 8, Saville was released.
"[Burrows] told target he'll look for the news on Sheriff Joe being blown up," surveillance records state.
Saville was tailed by deputies from the moment he left the prison at 12:52 p.m. on July 8.
Saville checked in with his probation officer, at 1:23 p.m., before heading to his father's residence, where he picked up some clothes. Saville went to his stepsister's house trailer and spent the night.
The next morning, at 7, he hopped on a bicycle and picked up job applications at Circle K, Chevron, Walgreens, Albertsons and Diamond Key before returning to his stepsister's trailer around 8:15.
It's not clear when Saville and Yancy talked again. But less than an hour later, Saville met Yancy at a McDonald's. The two departed at 9:15 and drove in Yancy's Chevy Tahoe to different stores to purchase parts to build a pipe bomb. Yancy gave Saville $200 to make the purchases.
Yancy emphasized that the current endeavor was serious.
"I'm telling you, you realize how, I mean this shit is serious, the one we're doing now, you understand that, right? . . . It's gotta go right, otherwise we're fucked, you, I mean you . . ." Yancy said, according to transcripts.
Saville wasn't certain of his ability to build the bomb.
"Yeah, that's why, well, if it doesn't work, I want to make, that's why I'm working with, you know, it's taking a long time to get all these . . ."
Moments later, Saville said: "Yeah, so you know, I mean what we're doing, it's fuckin' serious."
"It'll, it'll pay off," Yancy replied.
"Well, I would have done it for free," Saville replied.
"I mean, if you hadn't called me, 'cause I mean I would of [sic] possibly just ended up blowing somebody up, you know," Saville said.
"God," Yancy replied.
Saville would later claim his brash statements were made to convince Yancy he knew what he was doing.
Saville told investigators he was running a sting of his own. He said his goal was to get paid $2,000 for partially assembling the bomb, an up-front payment that Yancy had promised, then abscond with the money.
Yancy asked Saville if he was concerned about going after a public figure.
"The way I look at it, I'm just gonna give you ah, ah, [the] box. Do whatever you want with it," Saville replied.
Yancy asked Saville if it bothered him to want to kill Katz and Blake.
"Oh, no. I mean, that would give me joy," Saville replied.
"Kill 'em would give you joy?" Yancy asked.
"Yeah," Saville said.
After getting the parts, the men went to Los Olivos Hotel on McDowell Road at 1:17 p.m. Yancy ushered Saville into a room equipped with hidden video and audio recorders.
The videotape shows Saville beginning to assemble a pipe bomb -- a procedure Saville claims he's only done in his mind.
Yancy gave Saville a chance to stop.
"Before you start, you don't want to back out, right?" Yancy said, laughing.
Saville's response was unintelligible. But he appeared intent on constructing the device. According to their agreement, someone else would put it on Arpaio's car.
A few minutes later, Saville told Yancy he hoped Arpaio "opens this package." Saville described how he had placed the pipe bomb inside the box so that if the sheriff opens it, the end caps on the pipe will blast into the sheriff.
"Okay, cool," Yancy replied.
Attempting to set up his own sting, Saville said he would prepare the explosive materials for the weapon after he goes home. In fact, the explosives Saville obtained to power the bomb -- contained in nine toy rocket engines -- were never removed from a shopping bag.
Moments later, Saville indicated he'll also finish making a "switch" sometime later. Yancy acknowledged the plan by indicating "tonight."
Saville's tactic appeared to have worked.
Around 2:30 p.m., Yancy began counting out $2,000 cash in 20-dollar bills and threw the money in the box containing the partially built, unarmed weapon.
"Can you live on this for a while?" Yancy asked.
The two men drove to the Roman Table Restaurant after Yancy indicated Arpaio was there, eating lunch. The bomb and the money were left at the hotel.
Yancy and Saville entered the restaurant parking lot around 3 p.m. A Channel 10 news crew was poised to videotape the bust.
Saville told Jacobs that Yancy asked him where to place the bomb on the car.
"He pointed, wanted me to say how I was gonna blow it up. . . . I told him well, I'm not gonna blow it up because, um, I told him not for a couple like months or so," Saville later told detective Jacobs. (The Sheriff's Office has not provided transcripts of the conversation that occurred in the parking lot.)
Saville said Yancy asked for a cigarette, then got out and went to the back of the vehicle to look for one.
"He asked me to look in the glove compartment for cigarettes and there's no cigarettes in there," Saville said.
"The next thing I know there's 100 police officers and a helicopter and everything and I'm up against the car and in another car and I don't know what the hell happened," Saville recounted.
Confused as he was, Saville was certain about one thing.
"I'm in deep shit," he told his interrogator.
The Press Conference
Arpaio's chief deputy David Hendershott had put his handgun away by the time he squeezed into a chair to begin the press briefing about 4:15 p.m. on July 9. It had only been three hours since Saville had begun building the bomb. And barely more than an hour since Saville's arrest.
Reporters were told that videotape of Saville building the bomb would be in their hands shortly.
In front of Hendershott, a 20-year sheriff's department veteran, sat a small cardboard box containing the device allegedly assembled by Saville earlier that afternoon.
Behind Hendershott hung a banner emblazoned with Arpaio's name and the department's logo. Hendershott began with a short statement.
"At approximately 3 p.m. today, a man has just been arrested who had been released less than 24 hours ago from Perryville prison. His name is James Saville.
"Mr. Saville less than a week ago indicated his interest to, quote, blow the sheriff apart with a bomb. Shortly thereafter him [sic] being released from prison he conspired with an undercover sheriff's detective and subsequently today gathered all the material necessary to make the bomb.
"The bomb is sitting here in front of me. The subject has been taken into custody . . . at the Roman Table Restaurant where he was describing to undercover, our undercover sheriff detective, how to place the bomb for its greatest impact to kill the sheriff."
Hendershott said Saville had been booked into Madison Street Jail for conspiracy to murder Arpaio.
"Sheriff Arpaio is not available at this time. He has returned to his home to comfort his wife," Hendershott said.
"The suspect James Saville in October 1997 was arrested and subsequently convicted and subsequently serving prison time in Perryville for rigging the Maryvale High School to explode," he says.
"We have recovered written plans of this bomb. We also have the suspect on tape making this bomb, which we will try to provide to you at a later time. Any questions?"
Reporters hurriedly tried to patch together details of the story, but with TV crews' deadlines fast approaching, there was little they could do to verify Hendershott's version.
Still, it became apparent that there was far more to Saville's arrest than what Hendershott was telling.
When asked about Saville's motive, Hendershott responded, "You know I can't give you all that. The one statement that he made is that he felt that if he blew the sheriff up, he would be a hero."
Hendershott didn't mention that Saville allegedly made the statement after watching a news account of the spider sculpture episode.
Asked how Saville knew how to find the sheriff's car, Hendershott said, "At the point we felt that the bomb was such that it would become a threat to the undercover officer, the neighborhood, we had to cue the undercover officer to move him [Saville] away from the scene. And that was basically having him go out and show tactically how to place the bomb at the sheriff's car."
The bomb, however, was never armed and, according to transcripts and videos, wasn't going to be armed that day.
As the press conference continued, Hendershott contradicted himself, saying the bomb had become dangerous yet that no one ever was in danger.
"At the point where it got dangerous, the suspect was veered off by the undercover sheriff's detective to come down and take a look at the sheriff's car as far as to where to place it," Hendershott said.
Moments later, when asked if the sting unnecessarily placed the public and deputies in danger, Hendershott said no.
"Let me make something really clear for the print media. Okay. No one was put at risk. Okay. That's why we did it the way we did it. At no point was any citizen at risk. And at such time that any citizen, including our undercover officer, was put at risk, the operation would have been shut down," Hendershott said.
Asked if Saville's jailhouse statements might have been idle bravado, Hendershott said, "I think this went way beyond bragging and the reason I say that is that specific designs of the bomb were recovered from the cell along with his game plan."
Records released last Friday by the Attorney General's Office included Saville's papers that were seized by prison guards. None of those papers indicates any plot or "game plan" to kill anyone.
Reporters asked Hendershott why Saville would need an undercover agent if he was so intent on killing Arpaio.
"In essence, we didn't want to give him the opportunity to do it on his own so we provided him with an undercover sheriff's detective that shared his disdain for Sheriff Arpaio and his desire to kill him. In that regard, he was able to garner the trust of him and basically participate in the gathering of the, of the material," Hendershott says.
Hendershott never mentioned the extensive role the prison snitch played in convincing Saville to meet with the undercover agent. Nor did Hendershott disclose that the undercover agent posed as a Mafia hit man.
Toward the end of the briefing, Hendershott was asked if Saville was given financial incentive to build the bomb. Hendershott made it appear that Saville sought out payment, when records reveal it was Burrows who offered Saville the money.
"The suspect wanted $4,000 to make the explosive device. It was a discount rate -- $2,000 now and $2,000 later," Hendershott said.
Mention of the payoff seemed to heighten the skepticism of reporters covering the news conference. Someone asked whether Saville was entrapped.
Hendershott bristled, saying "there is no question at all as to what his intent was and that he was to stay on course with what he wanted to do."
While Hendershott was telling the press about Saville's intentions, Saville was telling Jacobs that he actually was planning to take the $2,000 for the partially completed bomb and skip town.
Hendershott initially claimed that no other public officials had been threatened.
"At this particular time, no," Hendershott said.
Under further questioning, however, Hendershott reversed field and disclosed that Katz and Blake had also been threatened by Saville.
"He's made threats in the past against a Superior Court judge and a county attorney that put him in jail. This specific threat was directed at the sheriff," Hendershott said.
Hendershott failed to mention that his own investigators continued to state up until the day before Saville was released that Saville might target Katz and Blake.
Records reveal that Arpaio was only listed as a potential victim after Burrows convinced Saville to contact Yancy, the day before he was released from prison.
When asked when the threats were made to the judge and the county attorney, Hendershott gave a surprising answer.
"I'm sorry, I don't know," Hendershott replied.
Hendershott either lied or was unfamiliar with the case, which had garnered the interest of "upper management" inside the Sheriff's Office.
As the press conference wound up, Arizona Republic reporter Chris Moeser commented that "it seems like you strung Saville along to get maximum publicity out of it."
"You know, that offends me. That really offends me," Hendershott said.
"You know. Because we didn't. Okay. That really offends me. Okay. Well you know what then, don't show up and read the case. Okay. Don't show up and read the case. This is a dangerous guy that came off the street. Okay."
Later, Hendershott chased Moeser down a hallway, grabbed him by the arm and told him to "drop dead."
Over the next three weeks, only Channels 3 and 12 continued to follow the story -- reporting key facts that raise serious questions over whether Saville was entrapped.
The Arizona Republic played the story inside its B-section.
It's tough to prove entrapment in Arizona. A defendant must show three things occurred:
The idea of committing the crime started with law enforcement officers or their agents.
Law enforcement officers or their agents urged the defendant to commit the crime.
The defendant was not predisposed to commit the type of crime charged before the officers or their agents urged the defendant to commit it.
Based on the evidence released to date, Saville appears to have a chance of proving he was entrapped.
While Saville has committed serious crimes in the past, he has never been charged with violent crime against a person and has given no indication beyond jailhouse boasts that he would intentionally hurt someone.
Saville's public defender, Ulises Ferragut, said he would prepare a vigorous entrapment defense.
"It seems to me the job of the sheriff's department is to prevent crime, not create crime. In this case, this is exactly what they have done. On their own they have created a crime. But there is no crime here. They have tried to create a crime and that is very alarming," Ferragut said.
The former law professor said he was excited about the opportunity to use an entrapment defense for the first time in his career.
"When everything comes out, I think the public is going to understand there is a lot more to this case," he says. "I think the public is going to be outraged and say this kid is innocent."
Saville, meanwhile, is being closely monitored by the sheriff's department. Hendershott issued an unusual memo on July 10, instructing that he be immediately alerted about "anyone inquiring about inmate Saville" including the media, calls and visits from family and visits from his attorney.
While Saville has some possibly strong defenses, he faces an uphill battle. He agreed to build a potentially lethal device in exchange for money. Prior to assembling the pipe bomb, he also was led to believe it was intended for Sheriff Arpaio.
Saville claimed the enticement of the money and the fear that Yancy was really a mobster kept him in the plot. Amazingly, Saville says in his interrogation he felt that it was an even chance that Yancy was an undercover cop.
Nevertheless, Saville said he didn't want to back out of the deal given the chance that Yancy might really be a mobster.
"I figured it was 50-50 chance that he was a cop and I didn't want to take the chance that he wasn't," Saville said.
Saville told detective Jacobs he never planned to kill Arpaio.
"I wasn't gonna kill Joe. I mean, yeah, of course you know I'm going away for it. Just between you and me, I never would kill anyone," he said.
"You just talk big?" Jacobs asked.
"Yeah, I talk big, I mean I probably made a comment that I was gonna kill the president, I can't do that. I probably said that."
"Do you know it's against the law to make threats?" Jacobs asked.
"Yeah, but, well, when the threats are in prison I thought they were just . . . threats to be popular and shit," Saville said.
Days after Saville was arrested, the prison snitch Burrows told a DOC investigator that he believed Saville had been "entrapped."
Contact John Dougherty at his online address: email@example.com
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.
- McCain Thrilled About Clean Water Act Injunction, but Critics Say He’s Just Playing...
Fri., Sep. 11, 7:00pm
Fri., Sep. 11, 7:00pm
Sat., Sep. 12, 6:00pm
Sat., Sep. 12, 8:00pm
- Transgender Woman Barred From Tempe Mosque Unless She Dresses as a Man or Can "Prove"...
- Domestic Violence Victim Threatened with Eviction for Calling 911 Sues City