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Man charged with attempted firebombing of Longmeadow Jewish assisted living facility offers alibi

A man charged with trying to firebomb a Jewish-sponsored assisted living facility in Longmeadow in April said Friday through his lawyer that an alibi will clear him of the anti-Semitic attack, according to legal filings.

The attorney for John Michael Rathbun, 36, of East Longmeadow, filed a notice of an alibi defense in US District Court in Springfield, where Rathbun faces charges of attempting to destroy property by means of an explosive and attempting to transport and receive explosives.

Prosecutors also allege an aggravating “special finding” that Rathbun allegedly targeted the Jewish Geriatric Services Lifecare complex, or JGS Lifecare, in Longmeadow based on the occupants’ perceived religion, records show.

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Rathbun has pleaded not guilty to the charges and “disputes the special finding,” legal filings state.

And in Friday’s notice, his federal public defender, Timothy G. Watkins, asserted Rathbun was in various other locations when someone left a makeshift incendiary device on the JGS grounds on April 2.

At the time, Watkins wrote, Rathbun was traveling by car from East Longmeadow to Springfield, where he visited two separate addresses.

“Defendant intends to rely on some, but not necessarily all, of the following witnesses to establish his presence at locations other than the place of the charged offense” including two Springfield men and the keeper of records for Verizon wireless, Watkins wrote.

Prosecutors hadn’t responded to the defense filing as of early Friday afternoon.

On the morning of April 2, Longmeadow police discovered a five-gallon Scepter fuel canister on the “landscaped grounds” of JGS, according to an indictment. The canister was located next to the JGS primary driveway entrance, within feet of a busy pedestrian walkway along Converse Street and about 50 yards from the JGS-operated Genesis House, a senior living facility with more than 100 units, the indictment said.

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The canister was approximately one-third full of gasoline and had a partially charred Christian religious pamphlet in the nozzle, according to the indictment.

An FBI affidavit filed in April laid out the evidence that allegedly tied Rathbun to the crime.

“A portion of the pamphlet was charred and appeared to have been lit on fire in an attempt to ignite the gas,” the affidavit said. “The LPD observed what appeared to be blood stains on both the canister handle and on the pamphlet.”

A DNA profile was taken from each blood sample, and investigators later determined the profiles were “linked to the DNA profile of Rathbun,” the affidavit said, adding that about a month before the crime, an online white supremacist platform had identified April 3 as “jew killing day,” and someone mentioned “that jew nursing home in longmeadow massachusetts” as a possible target.

The affidavit said the FBI hadn’t yet determined “whether Rathbun has been involved in any way with the [supremacist] Organization or in any other white supremacist activities. The FBI’s investigation is ongoing.”

However, the filing said, authorities matched the DNA taken from the canister and pamphlet to Rathbun through the FBI national CODIS database that stores convicted offender and arrestee DNA profiles.

Rathbun, the affidavit said, has three prior arrests in 2011 on his record for breaking and entering and receiving stolen property offenses. All three cases were continued without a finding; he was fined in all three cases and placed on probation for one, records show.

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On April 15, the affidavit said, FBI agents searched Rathbun’s home, which he shares with his parents and his teenage daughter.

“I observed that Rathbun’s hands had numerous cuts or wounds in various states of freshness, including an open wound on his right thumb,” the affidavit said. “I also observed a large plastic gas can on the Residence porch, and agents located other gas cans in the shed.”

Rathbun, the filing said, told agents he routinely gets up at 6 a.m. and drives on Converse Street in Longmeadow past the JGS complex en route to a methadone clinic. He “categorically denied” any involvement in anti-Semitic activity and also denied placing the canister on the JGS grounds, records show.

In addition, Rathbun told agents the gas can on his porch contained a mix of gasoline and another substance, which he used for a leaf blower, and that the cans in the garage contained gasoline he used for a lawnmower, the affidavit said.

He also told authorities his mother was involved in a local church and distributed Christian “proselytizing pamphlets,” but his mother indicated to investigators that she printed her own pamphlets and didn’t recognize the one that police found in the incendiary device, records show.

Agents said Rathbun had a noticeable reaction when they told him about the DNA match.

“Rathbun’s demeanor visibly changed, and a short while later, he stated that he did not know what he was going to do and that he wanted to cry,” the affidavit said.

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A pretrial conference is slated for Sept. 1.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.