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story.lead_photo.caption Robert David Tackett - Photo by Pulaski County sheriff's office

The former bagel-shop owner who planted firebombs in his Maumelle home last year will serve no more prison time than the 13 months he has already spent in federal custody for building the devices, which failed to detonate, a Pulaski County circuit judge ruled Wednesday.

Robert David Tackett, 65, told Judge Herb Wright that he's a changed man, having used his time incarcerated to abandon the anger at his now ex-wife that drove him to build and place the gasoline bombs in the couple's home at Creek Valley Lane in April 2018, about six weeks after they separated after almost 37 years of marriage.

"I am completely and heartfelt sorry for the crime I committed," Tackett told the judge.

Their divorce was finalized in June, and the 3,734-square-foot residence has been sold. The couple shared ownership of MorningSide Bagels at 10848 Maumelle Blvd. in North Little Rock, which also has been sold.

Throwing himself on the mercy of the court, Tackett faced up to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to Class A felony attempted arson in exchange for prosecutors not making a specific sentencing recommendation to the judge.

Prosecutors only asked Wednesday that the judge impose a "serious" sentence given how Tackett's gasoline bombs risked killing someone, particularly his wife, and destroying or damaging neighboring homes in the Maumelle Valley Estates subdivision.

Saying he took into consideration Tackett's federal prosecution, Wright imposed a four-year suspended prison sentence, conditioned on him continuing his federal court-ordered counseling, plus a $2,500 fine.

Defense attorney Gene Clifford told the judge that Tackett has taken full responsibility for what he's done, pleading guilty at the first opportunity to state and federal crimes. Tackett, who had no criminal convictions, has already served his federal prison time and will be on federal probation into 2021, Clifford said.

"He's been punished and incarcerated for what he's done," Clifford said. "He's now shown the court he's putting his life back together."

All more prison time would do now is disrupt the painstaking effort that Tackett has put into rebuilding his life and his mental health, Clifford told the judge. He also noted that Tackett has gastrointestinal problems that have twice required surgery since his arrest and require ongoing medical care. Tackett's plea for leniency was endorsed by his middle son, Benjamin Tackett, who told the judge that his father's intent had been self-destructive.

"I understand the reasons he did what he did, and he was not trying to hurt anyone but himself," he told the judge.

Robert Tackett told the judge that he's deeply sorry for what he's done, saying he acted while under extreme mental and financial pressures. He said he discovered that his wife had been unfaithful and that he had lost his family, his business and was close to losing his pickup and his home. His wife controlled the couple's finances and had stopped paying his bills, Tackett told the judge. He said he'd been advised she was "going to take everything" in the divorce.

"I was devastated emotionally that she had been unfaithful to me. I lost control of my emotions, and in a fit of anger I tried to strike back at the cause," his wife, he testified. "I never intended to hurt anyone. The only one I intended to hurt was myself."

Tackett told the judge that his priorities now are rebuilding his relationship with his three children, particularly his daughter from whom he is estranged, and establishing himself as a handyman. His prison stay gave him time to accept his situation and abandon his anger toward his wife.

"I'm beyond that," he told the judge. "I've reconciled with myself that that part of my life is over."

Roxane Elaine Tackett, 56, who ran the bagel shop, did not attend the sentencing hearing. Authorities discovered the bombs after Roxane Tackett went to check on Robert Tackett, fearing he had killed himself after their meeting with attorneys. When she walked inside the empty house looking for him, she smelled gasoline and called authorities. Each device was made of a 5-gallon can of gas, halogen light-bulb filaments, newspapers and steel wool, connected to an automatic lamp timer set to 5 p.m. One of them appeared to have activated.

The discovery led to a manhunt for Robert Tackett. Authorities found his pickup and boat trailer at Lake Ouchita two days later, ultimately chasing Tackett down on an island.

He told federal investigators he had planned to cut his wrists and die while the house burned down around him. Tackett, who was found with a cut on his wrist, changed his mind and decided to just burn the house down so his wife would not make any money from selling the property.

He pleaded guilty to the federal charge of possession of an unregistered destructive device and was sentenced in February to 15 months in prison, about nine months short of the maximum recommended under federal sentencing guidelines. Given that Tackett had already been in custody so long, he finished his prison sentence in May.

Deputy prosecutor Sam Jackson, skeptical about Tackett's claims about acting in a sudden fit, questioned him closely Wednesday about the effort Tackett invested in gathering his bomb-making materials and building the devices. It took about two days, Tackett said.

Under Jackson's cross-examination, Tackett also acknowledged the potential the bombs had to kill someone and that neighboring homes could have been put at risk if the explosives had worked.

The restaurant was vandalized the day before the bombs were discovered, and the judge presiding over the couple's divorce found that "the inescapable conclusion is that the vandalism and mayhem could only have been caused by" Robert Tackett.

According to the Tacketts' divorce settlement and property records, Roxane Tackett received the proceeds of the $299,000 home sale, $50,122. She also received all of the proceeds generated from the sale of MorningSide Bagels, an amount that was not disclosed.

Metro on 10/03/2019

Print Headline: Former central Arkansas bagel-shop owner offers apology in arson attempt

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