An Australian investment banker pleaded guilty today to chaining a fake bomb to a young woman's neck in a bizarre extortion attempt last year.
Paul Douglas Peters' lawyer Kathy Crittenden pleaded guilty on his
behalf in a Sydney courtroom to a charge of aggravated break and enter
and committing a serious indictable offence by knowingly detaining
18-year-old Madeleine Pulver.
Pulver was alone studying in her family's Sydney mansion on 3 August when the 51-year-old Peters, wearing a ski mask and wielding a baseball bat, tethered a bomb-like device around her neck. It took bomb squad police 10 hours to remove it, but it contained no explosives and Pulver was not injured.
The man left behind a note demanding money, along with an email address. New South Wales state police have said surveillance footage showed Peters in several locations where they believe he accessed the email account.
Peters, who traveled frequently between the United States and Australia on business, fled to the U.S. and was arrested at his former wife's home in Louisville, Kentucky, almost two weeks after the crime. He was extradited in September to Australia, where he has remained in custody.
Peters appeared in court by video from prison today. He showed no reaction when his lawyer entered the guilty plea.
"Mr Peters deeply regrets and is profoundly sorry for the impact that this incident has had on Ms Pulver and her family," Crittenden told The Associated Press after the hearing. She declined to comment further.
Why Peters targeted Pulver is unclear. US federal court documents show Peters once worked for a company with links to her family, but the Pulvers have repeatedly said they don't know him.
Pulver, who has graduated from high school since the attack, was in court with her parents to hear the plea. Her father, Bill, thanked police, prosecutors and members of the public for their support, and said the attack remains as mysterious and as "random to us in our minds as it did back on 3 August."
"There was no — nothing other than just the fact of Maddie was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Bill Pulver said outside court.
"A poor decision by one man has prompted a truly extraordinary and inspiring response from many thousands of people and we will be forever grateful."
According to Australian court documents, Peters entered the Pulvers' home through the unlocked front door and confronted the teen in her room. "Sit down and no one needs to get hurt," he told her. He then attached the bomb-like device, a two-page typed letter and a USB stick to her neck, told her to count to 200 and left.
In the letter, Peters warned officials not to tamper with the device or it would explode. He said he would send further instructions for a "defined sum" of money, and in exchange, would provide the code to unlock the device.
"I am a former Special Forces Green Beret munitions specialist and have constructed such devises for over twenty years," the letter said. "SO, ACT NOW, THINK LATER, or YOU will inadvertently trigger a tragically avoidable explosion, known in the American armed forces, as a BRIAN DOUGLAS WELLS event."
Wells was a Pennsylvania pizza delivery driver who was killed by a bomb that was locked around his neck as part of a bank robbery plot in 2003.
After his arrest in Kentucky, Peters told officials he had been in Australia finishing a book he was writing. He admitted to officials that he had gone to the Pulvers' street during the week before the attack but said he was only there "to do research for his writing." He admitted setting up the email account mentioned in the demand letter, but denied writing the letter or attaching the bomb-like device to Pulver's neck.
The email address contained a reference to a novel about a ruthless businessman in 19th-century Asia. A copy of that novel was found in Peters' ex-wife's home in Kentucky — but Peters told officials he bought it only after hearing about Pulver's attack in the media.
Bill Pulver was once the president and CEO of NetRankings, a pioneer in tracking online exposure and readership for companies advertising on the Internet. He left after the firm was sold to ratings giant Nielsen in 2007. He is now CEO of Appen Butler Hill, a company that provides language and voice-recognition software and services.
Peters will appear in court next on March 16 for a pre-sentencing hearing. He faces up to 20 years in prison.