Arguments and accusations detonated in a Bucks County district court Friday, nearly as numerous as the homemade explosive devices being debated.
In a hotly contested preliminary hearing, attorney Robert Goldman said the devices his client, Tina Smith, possessed were simply "homemade fireworks," and not the weapons of mass destruction that prosecutors labeled them.
"In this time, public officials like attention, and they made this case into one of weapons of mass destruction — nuclear bombs and chemical weapons," Goldman said, calling for "sanity to return to the prosecutor's office."
Smith, 31, was charged last month with conspiracy to possess or manufacture a weapon of mass destruction, reckless endangerment, and related offenses. In June, state police investigators found five explosive devices at the Quakertown house she had shared with David Surman Jr. for six years, according to court filings. Three were tucked into a bedroom dresser and two others, including an 18-inch explosive, were hidden in a nearby shed.
Surman, the owner of a small mail-order chemical company, made headlines in the summer when investigators linked him to a series of mysterious late-night explosions in rural townships at the northern tip of the county. He faces similar charges to Smith and has a pending case in County Court in Doylestown after waiving his right to a preliminary hearing earlier in the fall.
For Smith, Goldman argued that the charges should be reduced to violations of Pennsylvania's fireworks statute.
District Judge Regina Armitage disagreed, holding Smith for trial on all charges in County Court, where she will be arraigned in January.
Investigators have said Smith admitted to helping Surman deploy the explosives, driving him in her SUV as he lit their fuses and threw them out of the passenger-side window on at least three occasions. But despite prosecutors' assertions that Smith and Surman sought to intimidate or harm their neighbors, Goldman characterized their behavior as harmless, juvenile fun.
"The devices we have here, there is no evidence they were instruments of a crime," Goldman added. "Tossing them into woods or fields to see them explode to get your jollies is not an intent to deploy them criminally."
But Deputy District Attorney Antonetta Stancu disputed that description Friday, saying a forensic analysis determined the devices were more sophisticated than fireworks.
"There is no question that these are not fireworks," she said. "These were high explosive devices containing explosive quantities of different chemicals."
A report from the FBI's laboratory in Quantico, Va., found that the devices seized from Surman's home contained "high explosive hexamethylene triperoxide diamine," as well as silver nitrate, black powder, flash powder, and mannitol hexanitrate, an explosive compound used in detonators, Stancu said Friday.
As for the couple's potential motive in producing and using the explosives, Stancu said evidence clearly indicated that as well.
State Trooper Stephen DeAngeles testified Friday that binders recovered from the Quakertown home included several handmade and digital drawings about the explosive devices. They included phrases such as "boom, boom, no sleep at 4 a.m." and "[expletive] over the police."
"A picture is worth 1,000 words. These are worth so much more," Stancu said, adding that other pages in the binder include cartoonish depictions of Smith and Surman fleeing a mushroom cloud in an SUV.
"There was an intent here to terrorize the community and intimidate society," Stancu said.
No one was injured in the more than two dozen explosions, reported between April and June in the northern part of Bucks County, according to investigators. In the weeks before the raid on Surman and Smith's home, a public works employee in Milford Township inadvertently ran over one of the unexploded devices while mowing the grass on municipal property. The device detonated, but the worker was not harmed.
Court filings show that Smith and Surman joked about that incident in text messages.
"The feds took the mower on Milford," Surman texted Smith, according to an affidavit of probable cause for Smith's arrest.
"That's so … funny," she replied.