The attorney representing a suburban Chicago contractor accused of setting fire to an air traffic control facility said his client regrets his actions.
"We understand that the conduct, while motivated to take his own life, impacted a lot of people in a profound way," attorney Ron Safer said Friday. "He does regret what he did. He did it at the lowest point of his life, when he tried to end his life."
Brian Howard, 37, of Naperville, was formally charged Friday in connection with the September fire at the facility in Aurora that forced the shutdown of O'Hare and Midway international airports and led to the cancellation of thousands of flights.
Howard was a contract employee working at the facility. Authorities said he cut cables and set fire to a basement telecommunications room.
The charges -- one count of willfully setting fire to, damaging, destroying or disabling an air navigation facility; and one count of using fire to commit a federal felony -- follow months of discussions with federal prosecutors.
"What was on the menu of charges included terrorism charges; charges that would have landed Brian in jail for the rest of his life," Safer explained.
The two statutes under which Howard was charged could put him behind bars for three decades. Safer said his client is still suffering from mental illness but insisted Howard could benefit from the medical care he is now receiving.
"With proper treatment he will do just fine," Safer said. "He’s been a patriot, he served his country. He was an exemplary employee."
"He didn’t try to hurt anybody but himself," he said. "It is a tragic case."