Man indicted following multiple arrests for homemade bombs will spend years in federal prison

Composite image with background photo taken in 2019 of Washington County Bomb Squad technician in Washington City, Utah. Inset booking photo of Logan Mertlich, 36, taken Feb. 27, 2021, in Washington County, Utah | Booking photo courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff's Office, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A St. George man who has been held without bail following his arrest in February was sentenced in federal court Wednesday.

Logan Michael Mertlich, 36, of St. George, booking photo taken in Washington County , Utah, Feb. 27, 2021 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

The original arrest of 36-year-old Logan Mertlich came after officers in Washington City found explosive devices in his car – one of three similar incidents the defendant was admittedly involved in.

During Wednesday’s hearing before U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffer, Mertlich appeared via video for sentencing on one felony count of transportation of explosive materials, a charge that was filed March 26 by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Dent in St. George. The defendant pleaded guilty to the charge in May as part of a plea agreement with the government.

During the traffic stop in February, officers recovered a white box with what appeared to be homemade explosives during a search of the suspect’s vehicle. Officers also recovered several cylindrical objects with what looked to be an electrical fuse coming from each of the cylinders. At the time, the suspect told police he made the objects using black powder as a hobby.

The case against Mertlich was initially filed in 5th District Court, but once the federal charge was filed, the state case was dropped.

Dent outlined the details of the case Wednesday and said officers recovered 10 explosive devices from the backseat of the defendant’s vehicle that were later tested by the ATF. The analysis revealed that each contained a percolate explosive mixture, meaning they were created using percolate and aluminum. 

Dent went on to say when the traffic stop took place, Mertlich was already under investigation for a separate incident reported the month before when his son got a hold of a similar explosive device that detonated in the child’s hand. 

“Unfortunately, his son lost his hand when it exploded,” Dent said. 

The prosecutor also said that, in total, the defendant has had three encounters with police involving incendiary devices, including a 2018 incident when the defendant admittedly detonated an explosive device at Crimson Cliffs High School while the school was still under construction. 

2018 file photo of Crimson Cliffs High School during construction in Washington City, Utah, July 27, 2018 | Photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

Moreover, Dent said, the defendant has a long criminal history that includes convictions related to domestic assault, theft, DUI, drug and dangerous weapons possession as well as evading police. Mertlich’s dangerous conduct has had “tragic and lasting consequences on a young child,” Dent said, which weighed heavily upon the government in determining an appropriate sentence in the case.

Dent then told the court that a 46-month prison term would be appropriate in the case, which would not only have a deterring effect but would also incapacitate the defendant by removing him from the community, which Dent said Mertlich has placed in danger with the explosive devices he’s created. 

Dent said the 46-month term would make Mertlich “think long and hard about committing additional criminal conduct when he is released.”

Ryan Stout, the federal defense attorney representing Mertlich, also addressed the court, saying the sentence falls within the high-end of the guideline range and that while he is not typically supportive of a longer sentence, in this case he believed the federal sentence is appropriate since it would also be applied to any open cases Mertlich faces that were still pending in 5th District Court.

2019 file photo of 5th District Court where federal hearings are held, St. George, Utah, August, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Stout said another reason he was in agreement over the proposed sentence was due to the potential other consequences his client could have faced.

“There could have been other charges brought by the federal government that would have potentially lead to much higher leverage,” he said.

Despite agreeing with the federal sentence and saying he was shocked when he first got the case, Stout went on to say that as he got to know his client, he realized the impression that Mertlich was a “rogue bomber of some sort” was simply not true. 

A more accurate assessment, the attorney said, is that his client did in fact have a hobby involving explosives but that it was essential for the court to understand there was no evidence suggesting his client ever set out to hurt anyone, nor did he intend to damage any property.

Moreover, the incident involving Mertlich’s son, the attorney said, tore his client to his core, as he loves his son deeply and dearly and the two have a very strong bond. 

“He feels terrible about what happened with his son, and I know he would never intentionally harm him,” Stout said.

At issue during the hearing and one that took a significant amount of time to argue by both sides was whether the defendant would remain in custody in Washington County until he was transported to a federal prison facility or whether he could be released and then surrender himself to the facility as assigned by the court.

Dent said it is the defendant who has the burden to provide clear and convincing evidence he will not flee or pose a danger to the community or any person should he be released until he begins serving his sentence, which the prosecutor said Mertlich could not prove, citing the three encounters with law enforcement involving explosive devices.

Dent said releasing the defendant – “to have a bombmaker back in the community” – even temporarily, would pose a significant risk. He went on to say the defendant went so far as to disregard court orders and that he used another person’s urine to defeat a drug test while he was on medical furlough from the jail as he underwent several surgeries in the months prior to sentencing.

File photo of St. George Regional Hospital as seen on March 13, 2021. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Stout argued that his client did make a “bonehead move” by trying to manipulate a drug test but said it had more to do with his client panicking than anything else. However, Stout said, his client needs access to six weeks of physical therapy after his double-hip replacement surgery, therapy which has not been possible while he has been in jail.

Stout also said if his client was not allowed to self-surrender, Mertlich would likely be placed in a higher security level, which would not bode well for him, particularly in light of the fact the defendant has no history of fleeing the court’s jurisdiction.

“He’s not a flight risk,” the attorney said.

Mertlich also spoke during the hearing and said the incident with his son changed his view “on everything,” adding it was something he would have to live with for the rest of his life.

He also said he would dedicate his life to making up for what happened, an incident he was directly responsible for. He also asked the court to allow him to self-surrender to the prison.

The judge addressed both parties by first discussing the question of whether the defendant would be allowed to self-surrender, saying there was no clear or convincing evidence presented that would lead him to believe the defendant would not flee if he was released until he began serving his sentence.

Nuffer cited the fact that Mertlich violated the terms of the release agreement already while on medical furlough by using methamphetamine, and the defendant then coerced a minor to assist in the deception with the urine test.

“I just have no level of trust in you,” the judge said.

The judge then dismissed the remaining arguments that Mertlich should be allowed the temporary release before surrendering himself to the federal facility.

“In my view it’s not even a close call,” Nuffer said.

Photo of Safford Federal Correctional Institution in Safford, Ariz., Sept. 30, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Google Maps, St. George News

The judge sentenced Mertlich to serve 46 months in federal prison and recommended FCI Saffford, a federal correctional facility in Arizona that houses approximately 800 inmates and offers the RDAP program, a substance abuse treatment program for federal inmates, as well as the physical therapy the defendant needs following his surgeries.

Until then, he will remain in custody the custody of the U.S. Marshals and be housed at Purgatory Correctional Facility until he is transported to the federal correctional facility in Arizona. Upon release, the defendant would be placed on post-prison supervision with the Bureau of Prisons for three years.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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