ALEXANDRIA, Louisiana (KALB) – Continuing coverage of Daniel Aikens’ trial, the man arrested after an explosion on January 2, 2020 outside PayDay Today on MacArthur Drive. Check back for updates throughout the day.
Update from November 15 at 5:00 p.m.:
A Hobby Lobby loss prevention investigator testified about receipts, still photos and surveillance video that federal prosecutors say show Daniel Aikens buying parts to make bombs.
Hobby Lobby employee Philip Thrower testified about receipts and images from the West Monroe and Lafayette sites from September 10, 2019, December 19, 2019, and December 21, 2019.
Thrower testified about the videos that allegedly show Aikens buying rocket motors, which were found in the pressure cooker bomb in Monroe. The customer, assumed to be Aikens, paid in cash.
Hobby Lobby receipts do not explicitly describe the items that were purchased – only the departments they came from and the price. Federal prosecutors say the $3.49 purchases from the Toys and Hobby Department match the price of a rocket engine.
Aikens’ public defenders say the price could line up with several items in that department. They also questioned how Thrower was unable to retrieve the video from the Hobby Lobby system himself, pointing out that federal agents had asked him to verify its authenticity. Thrower said the video was authentic and had not been edited – he described how he knew the videos were from the stores in question.
We also heard of an FBI special agent who was part of a team collecting evidence the weekend after the Alexandria explosion on January 2, 2020. Investigators searched a field next to a Texaco extension on Jackson Street, where an explosion was reported. one month before December 20, 2019. No one was injured.
The FBI went to this scene because they thought it might be related to the PayDay Today explosion.
“Many times there was a practice session to make sure the explosive would work,” the officer said.
We also heard a 911 call from an unidentified male who called during the December 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.
Update from November 15 at 4:30 p.m.:
We heard about the woman who worked at the PayDay Today loan company on MacArthur Drive in Alexandria on January 2, 2020 – the day an explosion occurred in the parking lot and a mystery caller told the employee that she had to go to the bank and get him $10,000 or another bomb would go off and her children would be killed.
The woman – whom we are not identifying by name for her safety – testified this afternoon. She said she arrived at work that day around 9:15 a.m. and around 9:30 a.m. a call came in with an area code of 716. She answered it on the office cordless phone.
“It was a weird number,” she told the jury. “We’ve never had an area code call like this.”
The woman was working alone in the office. His family often called him to check on his safety.
The woman said the caller told her that her grandmother had lost her keys at the office and asked her to look for them. She agreed, and then he asked her to search the parking lot.
“He told me it might have been parked on the side closest to the store,” she said.
“I told him that I couldn’t find them – all of a sudden I hear a loud noise and I see coins flying like a bomb. As if something had exploded, ”recalls the wife of the blast.
She was scared.
“I told him I had to call 911 because something had exploded,” she said. “He asked what it was. I said I don’t know. I have to call 911. He said it was me.
The woman cried on the stand as she described what happened next.
“I was in shock at the time. He told me to listen and 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 any 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 had changed and his demeanor had changed. She was instructed not to call the police.
“He threatened to kill my children,” she said.
While this was happening, the woman’s fiancé started calling. She realized the man on the phone was looking at her.
“The caller told me not to say anything to her (fiancé) or look upset,” she said.
The caller asked her to call him from her cell phone as she went 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 it was fine, don’t hang up.
She entered the Valero and hung up and informed everyone inside of what was going on. Someone else called 911.
“He’s starting to call back.”
Another woman answered – said nothing – just put him on speakerphone.
“What the fuck are you doing? You’re supposed to go to the bank!
The woman’s fiancé met her at the gas station after an employee called him on his phone. The police began to arrive at this point.
Update from November 15 at 1:30 p.m.:
Federal prosecutors believe that before Daniel Aikens set off an explosion outside the PayDay Today loan company on MacArthur Drive in Alexandria on January 2, 2020, he set off a pressure cooker bomb in the parking lot of a school in beauty in Monroe on September 12, 2019. .
ATF Senior Special Agent Theresa Meza, who was at the scene in Monroe after a dumpster exploded outside Cloyd Beauty School, testified for the government.
Meza said that upon arriving at the scene, she found a melted garbage can and recovered from the area an explosive pressure cooker, a can of parts cleaner, butane canisters, a mousetrap attached to a battery, an engine rocket, smokeless black powder, and fishing line.
“I found a large amount of it at the scene. There was black on it, maybe soot,” Meza said of the fishing line.
The ATF’s investigation later leads them to Hobby Lobby, where they believe the rocket engine was sold.
Beauty school owner Joseph Matthew was injured in the blast. He told the jury it happened while he was putting boxes in the bin.
“My face was burned, my hair was burned, my arms were covered in blisters,” he said.
Matthew said he did not know Daniel Aikens, who prosecutors say put the bomb in the trash.
Matthew Simon, an ATF forensic chemist, later said that “double base smokeless black powder” was found inside the rocket engine – which he says is not not made that way.
As we took a lunch break, a loss prevention officer from Hobby Lobby was on the stand reviewing receipts, photos and videos that the government says show Aikens purchasing these items.
Government witnesses are called for the second day of Daniel Aikens’ trial at the Alexandria Federal Courthouse. Aikens was arrested after an explosion on January 2, 2020 outside PayDay Today on MacArthur Drive.
He pleaded “not guilty” in October to a series of charges in a second indictment. He faces three counts of making a destructive device and possessing a destructive device in violation of the National Firearms Act. He also faces one count of using an explosive to commit a federal crime and transmitting maliciously false information.
Aikens is accused of demanding $10,000 from the loan company after detonating a device in a nearby trash can. 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 to a cell phone he had purchased the previous month from a dollar general.
A jury was selected on Monday afternoon and the first arguments took place around 4 p.m.
Assistant US Attorney Jamilla Bynog called Aikens “a man on a mission”.
“A mission to sow fear, a mission to extort and a mission to make and use bombs,” Bynog told the jury.
Bynog told the jury that they would see Aikens purchase the items needed for bomb-making, his phone data, his phone’s conversations about bomb-making, the bomb-making manuals he had downloaded, as well as that cell phone searches for each of the bombing locations – reference an explosion that occurred on December 20, 2019 at a Texaco on Jackson Street, and a pressure cooker bomb explosion on September 12, 2019 outside a school in beauty to Monroe which they believe he is responsible for.
Bynog also said the jury would see cell phone searches and uploads for “how to make a pressure cooker bomb”. She said that Aikens at the end of the trial, the jury should find Aikens “guilty of Aikens’ anarchy charge”.
Federal Public Defender Natalie Awad told the jury that the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt rests with the prosecution.
She said Aikens pleaded “not guilty” to all charges and was entitled to the presumption of innocence.
“Truly a police case,” Awad said.
Awad said the defense isn’t saying something didn’t explode, but Aikens didn’t cause it. No DNA was found at Texaco or PayDay Today. She also said no eyewitnesses could identify Aikens.
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