North Little Rock man charged in firebombings following Floyd protests asks for pretrial release

File photo
File photo

A North Little Rock man accused of firebombing police cars in 2020 during protests in Central Arkansas in the wake of the police killing of a Minneapolis man earlier that year has asked to be released from pretrial detention after the dismissal of the most serious counts against him.

Just over two years ago, Mujera Benjamin Lung'aho, 32, was indicted on multiple counts of arson and possession of a destructive device following protests that erupted nationwide following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. He and four others were accused of firebombing police cars in Little Rock and North Little Rock during those protests.

In November 2021, Lung'aho petitioned Chief U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. to dismiss all of the federal arson counts against him, claiming the amount of federal funding that goes to the affected departments is not sufficient for federal prosecutors to step in. Lung'aho challenged the federal government's authority to charge him with arson under federal statutes on the grounds that, although supported in part by federal funds, local and state police entities derive only a small percentage of funding from the federal government.

Last month, Marshall dismissed two counts of possession of a destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence and one count of possession in furtherance of an attempted crime of violence, leaving in place federal counts of malicious damage and possession of a destructive device.

Lung'aho has been held in federal custody in the Greene County jail since August 2021 following the revocation of his supervised release by U.S. Magistrate Judge Tricia Harris following numerous violations of his release conditions.

His defense attorney, Michael Kaiser of Little Rock, argued that with the dismissal of the three most serious counts against his client, Lung'aho was no longer facing a potential 30-years-to-life sentence but instead was looking at a probability of serving no more than five years should he be convicted on any of the remaining counts.

He argued that keeping Lung'aho in jail would constitute a violation of due process and would be punitive in nature. He said Lung'aho's confinement was due to violations of his release conditions and that he does not pose a flight risk or danger to the community. Kaiser said the reduction of his potential exposure in sentencing would reduce the likelihood of further violations. Also, he said, after 14 months of detention in the Greene County jail, Lung'aho's "desire and ability to comply with conditions has improved remarkably."

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Ray White argued against Lung'aho's release, saying there is no "bright line" in case law to determine at which point pretrial detention becomes punitive rather than regulatory, but that to argue such at 14 months "is premature."

Harris said she will issue a ruling after she studies the issue further.

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