Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Man who detonated pipe bomb in Colonial Williamsburg given 10 years

Stephen Powers (WYDaily/Courtesy Williamsburg Police Department)
Stephen Powers (WYDaily/Courtesy Williamsburg Police Department)

A 31-year-old man who detonated a pipe bomb in Colonial Williamsburg in October 2017 has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Stephen James Powers, of Gloucester, learned his fate Thursday in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The term is for two counts of possession of unregistered explosive devices and making a false material statement to federal agents, the Department of Justice wrote in a news release.

Powers pleaded guilty to the charges in January 2019, facing up to 10 years on each of the possession charges, and up to five years on the false statement charge.

Powers was arrested after planting an improvised explosive device in the commercial area of Colonial Williamsburg near Berret’s Seafood Oct. 19, 2017.

Powers worked for Colonial Williamsburg’s maintenance department at the time of the explosion, police said.

Powers plugged the pipe bomb into an outlet next to a tree in Colonial Williamsburg, which was decorated with “a large number of small white lights,” according to federal court documents filed in the case.

The lights, which spanned throughout the area in multiple trees, were attached to an electrical system timer that was scheduled to turn them on at 5 p.m. each night. With the explosive device plugged in, the system activated at 5 p.m. Oct. 19, 2017, detonating the pipe bomb and sending shards of metal up to 150 feet away, court papers indicated.

Powers was arrested Oct. 20, 2017 after a conversation with investigators at his home in Gloucester and taken to the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail.

While at the jail, he described to another inmate the method he used to make the explosive devices, according to court documents. After that, investigators returned to Powers’ home and found more materials to make similar devices.

“The defendant’s actions in this case are much louder and more believable than his words,” U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed April 26, six days before the sentencing. “We cannot know whether the defendant wanted to kill a specific person or just anyone who happened to be available. What we do know is that, but for chance, no one was killed. This failure to murder in no way lessens his culpability for trying.”

Local court

Before the case was taken up by federal prosecutors, Powers faced several charges in the Williamsburg-James City County General District Court, including using a weapon for a terror act, creating or using a bomb or explosives, and making a false report to police.

Those charges were dropped when federal prosecutors took on the case.

While the case went through general district court, state psychologists reported they believed Powers was feigning mental illness.

In February 2018, court-appointed psychologist Kevin McWilliams testified to Powers’ competency, saying he has seen Powers four times since November and believes there is “significant malingering,” or feigning, of psychiatric illness and memory loss.

A request at that time from Powers’ attorney to have him hospitalized for psychiatric treatment was denied, keeping him in jail for future court appearances.


On Wednesday, Powers’ attorney filed two letters in federal court he requested to be taken into consideration for sentencing, one by Powers and one written by a pastor.

“What I did was completely irresponsible and dangerous,” Powers wrote in the letter, asking for the judge’s mercy. “… I also hope that one day the people that I hurt will find it in their hearts to forgive me of my sins and wrongdoings.”

Powers added he has participated in classes and programs while incarcerated to “help improve myself to become the person, man, and father God wants me to be.” Those programs focus around anger management, addiction and the Bible.

The letter from the pastor, Richard Arrington of the Church of Christ in Rocky Mount, said he is a friend of Powers’ family.

Arrington wrote the church would be willing to help Powers find employment after being released from prison, especially since he “has accepted responsibility for his actions.”

“I have seen the heartache of parents who reared two children to love the Lord and to love others seek to understand what went wrong, yet through it all their love has not faltered,” Arrington wrote.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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