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Man Charged for Guns Found Before LA Pride Parade

James Wesley Howell was arrested hours after a rampage left at least 49 dead in Orlando

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    An Indiana man who was arrested in Santa Monica last weekend has pleaded not guilty to explosives and weapons charges. Ted Chen reports for the NBC4 News at 4 p.m. on June 14, 2016. (Published Tuesday, June 14, 2016)

    A man headed to a West Hollywood LGBT festival with guns and a bomb-making chemical in his car was charged Tuesday, a day after FBI agents served a search warrant at the suspect's Indiana home in connection with the investigation.

    James Wesley Howell, 20, was charged with unlawful possession of an assault weapon and a destructive device on a public street, and manufacturing or importing a large magazine and carrying a loaded firearm in a vehicle, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said.

    He pleaded not guilty Tuesday afternoon and a judge ordered his bail be quadrupled to $2 million. Howell is being assigned an attorney with the public defender's office.

    In his car was an AM-15 assault rifle, two 30-round magazines and two additional rifles, according to court documents. He also had 20 pounds of an explosive known as Shoc-shot. Police said the chemicals were already mixed and could have been detonated by a rifle shot.

    Alone, each item found in Howell's car might not indicate anything sinister, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Keith Schwartz said. But together, they "just don't pass the common sense test."

    "I cannot in good conscience think of any reasonable reason that somebody would be traveling across the country with all of these things," he said.

    A black hood, a stun gun and handcuffs were also found in the car.

    Although he was charged in state court, federal authorities were continuing to investigate Howell, suggesting he might face federal charges as well.

    FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said the bureau's Indianapolis field office executed a federal search warrant at Howell's Clark County home on Monday night.

    "Mr. Howell has not been charged federally at this time, however, the investigation is continuing," Eimiller said.

    The FBI said agents served a search warrant at his Clark County home Monday evening, but did not provide further details.

    Santa Monica police and the FBI were continuing to investigate the case and Howell's intentions. 

    If convicted as charged, Howell faces up to nine years and eight months behind bars.

    Howell was arrested about 5 a.m. Sunday in the 1700 block of 11th Street — just hours after a shooting rampage at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, left 49 dead and dozens more injured.

    Police said Howell was found sitting in his car when officers responded to a report of a man knocking on a resident's door and window.

    Officers examining Howell's white Acura sedan with Indiana license plates recovered three assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and ammunition along with a 5-gallon bucket with chemicals that could have been used to make an improvised explosive device, police said. The sheriff's department bomb squad was called to help make sure the vehicle and area were safe, police said.

    Howell told police he was planning to attend the 46th annual LA Pride Parade and Festival in West Hollywood, but made no reference to doing harm there, according to Santa Monica police Lt. Saul Rodriguez.

    "He did not make any additional statements saying he was going to do anything further than'' attend the event, Rodriguez said. Police said Howell and his car were found about seven miles from the event, police said.

    Rodriguez said there was no known connection between Howell and the overnight massacre in Orlando, the nation's worst mass shooting in modern times.

    Security was increased at Sunday's LA Pride festival as a result of the Orlando massacre and Howell's arrest, said Lt. Vance Duffy of the West Hollywood Sheriff's Station.

    Howell was arrested less than a year ago for allegedly pointing a gun at his neighbors, according to the Los Angeles Times, which cited Indiana court records. He was charged in October with felony intimidation and pointing a firearm at another person.

    On April 19, Howell accepted a deal in which he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor intimidation, was sentenced to a year in state prison but was placed on probation, the newspaper reported. Howell agreed to forfeit all weapons during probation.

    Joseph Greeson, 18, a friend of Howell's and a fellow car club member, said Howell didn't harbor any ill will toward gays or lesbians and that he is bisexual, The Times reported.