Anthrax hoax fugitive enters not guilty plea

Tuesday, December 18, 2001

URBANA, Ill. -- A man suspected of sending fake anthrax letters to abortion clinics nationwide was returned to Illinois on Monday, where he pleaded innocent to a charge that he escaped from jail.

Clayton Lee Waagner, 45, made his first federal court appearance in Illinois since escaping from the Dewitt County Jail on Feb. 22. Waagner had been held in Ohio, where he was arrested two weeks ago.

Waagner, who smiled and chatted with his attorneys, declined to address the court after the 10-minute hearing. He was then taken to Sangamon County Jail, where he awaits trial on the escape charge and sentencing on previous convictions.

U.S. Judge Harold Baker set a Feb. 19 trial date. The escape charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Waagner is suspected of sending more than 550 anthrax hoax letters to abortion clinics since his escape. The envelopes contained white powder and letters signed "Army of God."

Reading from a statement, U.S. Attorney Frances Hulin said she was "pleased to have Mr. Waagner returned to federal court" and thanked federal and local authorities for capturing the former fugitive.

"I am confident they will maintain that vigilance" through Mr. Waagner's stay in Illinois until he begins serving his imprisonment, she said.

When he escaped, Waagner had been awaiting sentencing on charges of interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle and illegal possession of a firearm. He faces 15 years to life imprisonment on those charges and is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 25.

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