March 29, 2017 / 5:29 PM / 4 months ago

Armed man arrested on way to L.A. gay pride parade pleads not guilty

FILE PHOTO - James Howell is shown in this booking photo from the Santa Monica Police Department after he was arrested with guns and explosives in his car in Santa Monica, California, U.S. June 12, 2016. Santa Monica Police Department/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - An Indiana man arrested on his way to a Los Angeles-area gay pride parade last year after police found three assault rifles and potentially explosive chemicals in his car has pleaded not guilty to weapons charges.

James Wesley Howell was arrested only hours after a gunman killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Florida, but police said they found no connection between Howell and the Orlando mass shooting.

He entered his plea on Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court to unlawful possession of an assault weapon, importing large firearms magazines, possession of a destructive device and carrying a loaded gun in a car, according to court records.

Howell was arrested June 12 after police officers responded to a call from a member of the public and found him sitting in a white Acura sedan with the firearms, Santa Monica police said last year.b

He also had a five-gallon (19-liter) bucket with chemicals that could be used to make an explosive device, police said after his arrest.

Howell told police he was on his way to the LA Pride Festival in West Hollywood, a small municipality bordering Los Angeles. Police said he made no mention of what he planned to do at the parade.

Howell, who faces a sentence of more than nine years in prison if convicted, has been held in jail on $2 million bail since his arrest. He is due back in court on April 27.

A Los Angeles judge earlier this month found sufficient evidence to hold him for trial, according to court records.

Last year, prosecutors in Clark County, Indiana, where Howell lived at the time, charged him with molesting a 12-year old child, Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull said by phone.

Indiana authorities brought the charge against Howell one day after he was charged with weapons offences in California. Authorities had been investigating the molestation allegation for about two weeks prior to pressing charges, Mull said.

Howell appeared to have left for California after learning he was under investigation in Indiana, Mull said. Authorities plan to have Howell sent to his home state to face the child molestation charge after the conclusion of his criminal case in California.

A Los Angeles prosecutor could not immediately be reached for further comment on Wednesday. Reuters was not immediately able to identify a legal representative for Howell.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Patrick Enright and Andrew Hay

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