Man accused of setting off bottle bombs at 5 movie theaters pleads guilty in Maryland case

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UPPER MARLBORO, Maryland — A man accused of setting off "bottle bombs" at Washington-area movie theaters on six days earlier this year has pleaded guilty to charges in one Maryland incident and is expected to resolve other charges within months.

Manuel Joyner Bell Jr., 21, pleaded guilty Friday to charges stemming from a May incident. Authorities said after his arrest earlier this year that he confessed to setting off bottle bombs on six occasions at five different theaters. The incidents, which took place from March through May, panicked moviegoers and led to evacuations of the theaters but caused no serious injuries.

Joyner Bell's attorney, Warren Price, said Friday after a court hearing in the case that his client is "remorseful about any harm he may have caused." But Price also said he viewed his client's actions as a "misplaced childhood prank," and said prosecutors had over-charged the crime.

Prince George's County State's Attorney Angela Alsobrooks disagreed, calling Joyner Bell's actions "no joke." Speaking outside the courthouse she said Joyner Bell enjoyed causing fear and that her office expects to ask for at least six years in prison at his scheduled March 5 sentencing. Alsobrooks also said that at sentencing he will enter pleas in two other Maryland bottle bombings. Sentencing guidelines recommend he spend six to 21 years in prison, Alsobrooks said.

Court documents show authorities charged Joyner Bell after learning he used the movie ticket website Fandango to purchase tickets corresponding with the theaters and days of five of the bottle bombings. He also Tweeted updates on the media coverage around the incidents.

Prosecutor Michael Wallace said in court Friday that Joyner Bell made the bombs by combining an acid and aluminum inside a sealed plastic bottle, causing the bottle to explode. The containers included a bottle of Gatorade and bottles of Lipton Brisk iced tea, which Joyner Bell had as one of his "likes" on his Facebook page. Wallace said the movies he targeted included "X-Men: Days of Future Past," ''Captain America," ''Spider-Man 2" and "Godzilla."

The charges Joyner Bell pleaded guilty to on Friday stemmed from a bottle bombing on May 24 at the AMC Magic Johnson Theater in Largo, which is east of Washington. The other Maryland bottle bombings took place in Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties. Joyner Bell also faces charges in Virginia, where he is said to have set off bottle bombs in the city of Alexandria and at the AMC Tysons Corner, the one theater he is said to have hit twice.

Also facing charges as a result of the incidents is Michael Hollingsworth of Takoma Park, Maryland, who authorities have said was Joyner Bell's driver. Hollingsworth's attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, said Friday that the men went to movies together but that Joyner Bell acted alone.

Joyner Bell is from Bowie, Maryland.


Follow Jessica Gresko at http://twitter.com/jessicagresko

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