Jury selection is slated to get under way Tuesday for one of two men accused of setting booby traps that were designed to kill law enforcement officers in Hemet.
Nicolas John Smit, 41, of Hemet, could face life in prison if convicted of five counts of attempted murder of a peace officer, being in possession of a zip gun, attempting to ignite an incendiary device in the commission of a felony, conspiracy, five drug-related offenses and multiple sentence-enhancing allegations, including committing a crime while on bail.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Mark Mandio heard pretrial motions in the case Monday and scheduled the first panel of prospective jurors to appear for questioning about their qualifications Tuesday.
Smit is in custody without bail at the Southwest Detention Center in French Valley.
His co-defendant, Steven William Hansen, 38, of Homeland, will be tried separately in January.
During a preliminary hearing last December, investigators and acquaintances of the defendants testified that they harbored ill will toward the Hemet Police Department and were overheard plotting at least one attack.
Hemet police Sgt. Matthew Hess and Detective Chuck Johnson are named in court documents as victims.
Former District Attorney Rod Pacheco said during a July 2010 news briefing that Johnson arrested Smit in June 2009 on drug charges, resulting in the defendant’s conviction. Hansen was paroled from prison in March 2010 after serving time for arson.
The pair, who once shared a house, are believed responsible for a failed attack on the Hemet Police Station on June 4, 2010, authorities.
They reportedly climbed the roof of a grocery store across the street and rigged a bazooka to fire into the building, but it failed to launch, according to authorities. It was later determined the rocket was a training device with no warhead.
Smit alone is charged with rigging an improvised device to Johnson’s patrol unit in March 2010, but it caused no harm.
Smit is also charged with placing a zip gun on a gate at the Hemet-San Jacinto Gang Task Force’s headquarters on Feb. 23, 2010. The device was triggered when Hess opened the gate, firing a bullet that narrowly missed him, according to investigators.
The attacks began with a New Year’s Eve 2009 attempt to blow up the task force’s building by rerouting a natural gas line into the facility. A spark could have ignited the gas, but the set-up was discovered in time.