Brian Howard to plead guilty at next court date in FAA facility fire charges

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Brian Howard made a brief court appearance Thursday to plead not guilty to charges - for now. (WLS)

The court appearance was brief, but it was enough for Brian Howard's family to see him plead not guilty - for now.

The 37-year-old Naperville man is working on a plea agreement with the federal government. Howard is accused of setting fire to the Aurora air traffic control facility last fall - the act of sabotage that caused airlines to cancel thousands of flights. It took days for the system nationwide to recover.

"We don't mean to make excuses for Brian. Brian isn't making excuses as well, the damages that were done and the anxiety it caused - we are all very much sorry for and he very much regrets it," said April Connor, Howard's sister.

Howard worked as a contractor in the basement of the Aurora facility; after allegedly setting the fire, he tried taking his own life.

"He, unfortunately struggled with mental illness, we can't thank enough the first responders who saved my brother's life," Connor said.

Howard's sister says what her brother needs is help for mental illness. Howard's attorney says while his client has taken responsibility for his actions, he never has explained why he did it.

"I don't think you can explain something that is irrational, something that somebody does when they are not in the right state of mind," said Ron Safer, Howard's attorney.

Safer says Howard plans to change his plea to guilty at his next court appearance on June 4. Howard is charged with one count of willfully damaging an air navigation facility and one count of using fire to commit a federal felony. Safer says the charges could have been worse.

"The terrorism charge was something that was on the menu of charges, we believe that would have been totally inappropriate," Safer said.

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