ALBANY – A 42-year-old Gloversville man who was found to have six potentially deadly pipe bombs in his residence last year, was sentenced in federal court Wednesday to three years in prison followed by 3 years of supervised release.
Michael D. Darling, who pleaded guilty in October to illegally possessing firearms as a felon and unlawful possession of six pipe bombs, said during the sentencing that he was apologetic and that “going through all this was completely unnecessary.”
United States District Judge Mae A. D’Agostino called the two concurrent 36-month sentences “sufficient but not greater than necessary,” and said the ruling was more lenient than the 51-to-63-month recommended prison term for the offenses.
The shorter prison sentence points to the nuances of the case, the judge said. On the one hand, Darling has sought treatment as early as 2007 to help cope with a long history of mental health troubles that dates to when he was 18 and continued through his time as a combat engineer in the U.S. Army in 2003 and 2004. On the other hand, the judge said Darling, who has a felony third-degree burglary conviction, also has a history of impulse control problems, and regardless of how Darling intended to use the pipe bombs, “it takes one lack of judgment, and something awful can happen.”
Police found the pipe bombs at Darling’s 14 McLaren St. residence Feb. 12, 2021, as they searched the home to check on his welfare. Two women who were family members expressed concern over text messages they’d received and had asked police to check on Darling. Police arrested Darling after he had checked himself into the hospital for mental health reasons, his lawyer noted.
An important backdrop to the case is that Darling remains a person of interest in his wife’s 2019 death at her Fort Johnson residence. While Darling contends his wife, Kristine M. Howland Darling, 44, died by suicide, police are continuing to investigate. No charges have been filed in relation to Howland Darling’s Feb. 6, 2019 death, which involved a gunshot. Her death has remained an active investigation by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department for more than three years.
Darling’s intent for the pipe bombs, four of which were filled with BBs that could have been used as shrapnel, remains unanswered. Assistant United States Attorney Robert A. Sharpe presented a scenario in which Darling, who the prosecution says was aware that he was being investigated by police concerning his wife’s death, may have been planning some kind of dangerous event, such as a “death by cop.”
But Darling’s defense attorney, Joseph M. McCoy, called that theory “hogwash,” and maintained Darling was planning to use the bombs for a visual spectacle involving blowing up stumps and spraying water for his own enjoyment.
Both attorneys called the sentencing “appropriate.”
Both attorneys also agreed that Darling’s mental health history is an important factor. Judge D’Agostino ruled Darling must enroll in a mental health program as part of his eventual release.
“My hope is that with in-prison treatment as well as the post-prison treatment I’ve ordered that you can somehow deal with whatever demons you have,” Judge D’Agostino told Darling.
The judge described a situation when Darling was 18 during which he threatened young women with a pellet gun and harsh language at Gloversville High School. She also described a 2004 incident in which Darling was suicidal and threatened to rape his wife.
“There is ample evidence of poor impulse control,” she said.
Darling needs support more than punishment, said Roy M. Diehl, who served 26 years in the U.S. Army and is now the deputy director of the New York State Defenders Association’s Veterans Defense Program. The program provides training, support and legal assistance to promote trauma-informed effective representation of veterans and service members in the criminal and family court systems. Diehl attended the sentencing and also submitted a letter to the court suggesting Darling has what it takes to “heal himself and become whole again.”
While deployed in Korea in 2003, Darling received a letter from his wife in which she admitted to starting a relationship with someone else, Diehl’s letter reads. Diehl said Darling was greatly upset by his wife’s letter.
“In this case, PFC Darling attempted suicide, and while he fortunately failed in the attempt, his action led to the Army separating him from the service,” Diehl wrote. “He deserved better from the Army when it essentially tossed him aside with no regard for his wounds–or for his potential to heal.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.