March 3, 2012

Man in hunk of burning trouble in Florida

By Craig Crosby ccrosby@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

A former Elvis impersonator from Maine who reportedly drove a stolen car from Augusta to Florida is charged with threatening police there with a weapon of mass destruction.

Michael James Conley, 64, of Waterville, told the Miami Herald he was suffering from diabetes Monday when he told police in Fort Pierce, Fla., that a small vial he was holding was loaded with the lethal toxin Ricin.

Officers were trying to question him about a car stolen from a dealership here in Augusta.

Conley's claim led to the evacuation of about 100 people from the America's Best Value Inn in Fort Pierce. The standoff, during which Conley allegedly pounded his chest with a knife in his hand and told police to shoot him, ended after about four hours.

Conley said he ate some oatmeal and that improved his blood-sugar levels.

"I apologize to the public," Conley told the Herald. "I was disoriented."

Conley was charged with possession of a hoax weapon of mass destruction, resisting an officer without violence and conspiring to deal stolen property. He was subsequently charged with contempt of court. Conley was being held at the St. Lucie County jail in lieu of $115,000 bail.

Conley's son, Michael Harootian-Hughes, 28, who was in the hotel room at the time of the standoff and reportedly made the oatmeal that helped his father, also was charged with possession of a hoax weapon of mass destruction. He was being held in the same jail in lieu of $20,000 cash bail.

Acting Kennebec County District Attorney Alan Kelley said Conley is wanted in Maine on theft charges in connection with a car stolen Nov. 26 from Darling's Hyundai in Augusta.

"The case we have is he allegedly went to a car dealership and allegedly gave them a bad check and drove out with a brand new Hyundai," Kelley said. The car was valued at $32,000, according to Augusta police.

Fort Pierce police tried to question Conley about the stolen car parked at the Best Value Inn Monday around 3:45 p.m. Monday. Conley reportedly blocked the door to his room with a television set and yelled that he had the toxin Ricin, which comes from the pressed seeds of the castor-oil plant and is fatal to humans in even small doses.

Local police, including a SWAT team, and the FBI converged on the motel. Conley ended the standoff about four hours later, reportedly after eating the oatmeal prepared for him by his son.

Conley told the Miami Herald that the white substance he claimed was Ricin was actually salt. At first, he said he made up the word Ricin, but then acknowledged he had heard the term on television.

Florida police learned the car was stolen when contacted by a real estate agent to whom Conley had tried to sell the car.

Conley was also arrested on a fugitive from justice warrant, Kelley said.

"Our intent is to bring him back (to Maine) to face these charges," Kelley said.

Conley, who gained fame in central Maine in the 1970s as an Elvis impersonator, was convicted in 1990 of murdering a Canadian tourist in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., but the conviction was overturned in 1992, according to the Herald.

Conley spent his time during breaks in the trial entertaining courthouse workers and the public with Elvis Presley songs.

In addition, Conley's testimony in 2009 helped delay the execution of a death row inmate in Florida. Conley, who said at the time that he was in poor health, was flown from Waterville to Florida, where he recounted a jailhouse confession that Conley believed cleared John Richard Marek of a 1983 murder. Marek was executed three months later.

Craig Crosby -- 621-5642

ccrosby@centralmaine.com

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