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FBI Searches Lake at Home of Junk Dealer : Civil rights: Agents still refuse to call O’Ferrell a suspect. He stops cooperating with officers and hires an attorney.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Federal authorities Thursday began dragging a lake for evidence in the investigation of mail bombings in the South, and a junk dealer who had been questioned extensively by the FBI hired an attorney and quit cooperating with authorities.

The junk dealer, Robert Wayne O’Ferrell, continued to protest that he is innocent. No charges have been filed in the case, in which a federal judge in Birmingham and a civil rights attorney in Georgia were killed by bombs last month.

Still, for the fourth straight day, investigators scoured O’Ferrell’s property for evidence while publicly refusing even to designate him a suspect.

“He is one of a number of people we are talking to,” FBI spokesman Chuck Archer said earlier this week. Other sources said privately, however, that O’Ferrell was suspected of involvement and showed deception on the polygraph test administered earlier this week.

Amid signs of increasing frustration at the lengthy interrogations and constant media attention, O’Ferrell Thursday hired attorney Paul Harden, who said he is a family friend. “The involvement and the length of time the FBI has been here probably caused him some concern,” said Harden.

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Harden told reporters he believed O’Ferrell had been “too cooperative” with authorities.

“I don’t see anything that he has done at this time to incriminate himself,” Harden said, adding, “I don’t believe that he’s guilty of anything.”

The lawyer talked to reporters in front of O’Ferrell’s house in New Brockton, in view of divers searching the 15-acre lake across a narrow dirt road from the house.

The divers, who said they were told to look for unnatural objects on the lake bottom, said the job may take several days.

Already FBI agents and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had spent three days searching O’Ferrell’s home and a surplus store and warehouse he operated. They also pumped the contents of two septic tanks in a search for evidence.

Also on Thursday, the Atlanta Constitution quoted an unnamed source as saying new information had established a “possible link” between O’Ferrell and Bryan Joseph Fleming, an Enterprise man who was indicted in Montgomery earlier this month on gun-exportation conspiracy charges.

Harden told reporters that he knew of no connection between O’Ferrell and Fleming, who was indicted along with Charles Farrell Malone of San Francisco after a 33-month undercover investigation by the U.S. Customs Service and ATF.

They both pleaded innocent to the charge of conspiring to export firearms without federal authorization and are free on bond.

Authorities earlier had speculated that the bombings were racially motivated. A source close to the investigation said this week, though, that other factors may be involved.

“A lot of people are going to be surprised,” the source said. “When this is over with I don’t think it’s going to be your classic racial bombing.”

The hunt for the bomber began after federal Judge Robert S. Vance was killed by a mail bomb Dec. 16 at his home in suburban Birmingham.

Robert Robinson, a black civil rights lawyer and NAACP official in Savannah, Ga., was killed two days later by another exploding package, and similar mail bombs were defused at the 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta, where Vance served, and at the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People office in Jacksonville, Fla.


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