FORT PIERCE — A onetime Elvis impersonator who police said kept them at bay for four hours Monday afternoon by threatening use of the deadly poison Ricin has blamed his behavior on diabetes.
About 100 people were evacuated from America’s Best Value Inn, near Interstate 95, after Michael James Conley, 64, refused to come out of Room 122 when police knocked on his door at 3:45 p.m. Monday to question him about a stolen car in the parking lot.
He became belligerent, officers said, blocking the door with a 300-pound television and yelled that he had Ricin, a few grains of which is strong enough to kill a person.
In 1990, Conley was convicted of murdering a Canadian tourist in a Fort Lauderdale motel room. His conviction was overturned in 1992 because a prosecutor told his jury irrelevant information that may have biased the jury against him, records show.
In Fort Pierce Monday, about 25 police officers converged on the motel along with emergency response officials from St Lucie and Martin counties, along with a representative of the FBI and a SWAT team.
“I apologize to the public. I was disoriented,” Conley said during an interview at the St. Lucie County Jail on Tuesday. He is being held under a $115,000 bail on charges of charges of possession of a hoax weapon of mass destruction, resisting an officer without violence and conspiring to deal in stolen property.
On Tuesday another charge was added — contempt of court — after his initial court appearance. Details of that charge were not immediately available.
Also being held on a weapons hoax charge is his son, Michael Harootian-Hughes, 28, who was in the motel room during the standoff. Harootian-Hughes is being held in lieu of $20,000 bail.
Conley said he finally regained his composure after his son cooked him some oatmeal, helping rebalance his blood sugar. At 7:45 p.m. Monday, the son and father surrendered to police.
It was only then that police learned that there was no Ricin in the motel room, nor was there another alleged weapon: sticks of C-4 explosives.
“It (the alleged Ricin) was just salt,” Conley said of what was in a plastic container he waved at police earlier in the day as he yelled and stood in the window of his motel.
During the interview at the jail, Conley initially said he made up the word “Ricin.” However, he finally said he heard the name during a television broadcast about terrorists in the Mideast.
Officers drew their guns and Conley “began pounding his chest with his knife in hand” according to the reports.
“He was screaming through the window to shoot him,” said officer Wayne Kern.
Conley said he was angered by the officers who wanted to question him about the car.
At the jail, Conley said he bought the 2011 Hyundai Sonata in Maine with a check — that later bounced. Police learned about the car when a real estate agent called about Conley trying to sell him a vehicle that had been reported stolen.
The real estate agent and Conley met Feb. 20 when Conley called, saying he had just arrived from Maine and wanted to buy a house in the Fort Pierce area, according to police reports.
At the time, Conley said he was staying at the Best Value Inn in a room rented by his son. Conley previously had a number of residential addresses in Fort Pierce, Post St. Lucie and Martin County.
On Feb. 21, the agent showed Conley some homes. The next day the agent, at his own expense, took Conley to a medical office for care. It was there that Conley asked whether the agent wanted to buy his car, police said.
“There was a tremendous amount of resources expended on this hoax,” McWilliams said. “We will be discussing this with the State Attorney’s office to see where this leads.”
Conley said he had been innocent of the killing in Broward County. During breaks in his trial there, he had entertained courthouse personnel and spectators with renditions of Elvis Presley songs.
“I know who did it. I just didn’t say who,” he said.