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‘Basic panic’ as man hurls firebomb in courtroom

April 9, 1997

URBANA, Ill. (AP) _ Jurors leaped out of the box in panic and people stampeded out of a courthouse after a hooded man threw a Molotov cocktail at a judge, slamming him in the forehead and starting a fire that gutted the courtroom.

The bomb bounced off the forehead of Circuit Judge George Miller, but didn’t immediately explode. Miller, one of the four people who suffered minor injuries, had handled a civil case involving John E. Ewing, the man arrested later Tuesday for the bombing, police said.

``It was obvious that he was aiming it at the judge and trying to hurt the judge,″ said Abra Bonnell, a juror in the malpractice case being heard Tuesday. ``Everybody left the jury box screaming.″

Champaign County Sheriff Dave Madigan said Ewing, 37, was arrested at a motel. He was charged with arson, carrying an explosive device and using that device during a crime of violence.

Jurors said the bomber appeared nervous or agitated.

``He didn’t say a word,″ David Chambers said. ``He came in, looked around, grabbed the bottle out (from under his clothing), lit it and then threw it.″

What happened next was ``basic panic,″ Chambers said.

Madigan said Miller had been involved in a civil case before Miller, although the details weren’t clear.

The bomb _ a bottle filled with an amber liquid and a lighted rag stuffed in the neck _ rolled around on the floor in front of Miller’s bench, spewing flames and what smelled like gasoline.

The bomber escaped in the chaos.

``No one saw him fleeing from the courthouse,″ chief sheriff’s deputy Gary Turner said. ``He just ran down the steps and ran out.″

The fire turned everything in the courtroom black. Charred paneling drooped from the walls, and some blackened tiles fell out of the ceiling.

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