I find this whole event pretty interesting.
In retrospect, it probably would have been a good idea to make the "advertising signs" more obviously non-threatening and maybe even to communicate in advance with law enforcement that this campaign would be occurring and that they posed no danger to the public.
Having said that, it is just mind-boggling to note how quickly our society can undergo mass-influence and delusion. Maybe it is the result of the Sept 11 attacks, Oklahoma City, etc. but this is how society is now and unfortunately, very often, common sense and cooler heads will not prevail in certain situations. I fear for the time when we face real threats perhaps nuclear, chemical or biological and how not only the authorities but the average person will react. It doesn't bode well.
Anyway, regarding the charges against these poor guys, they are completely ridiculous.
I am very surprised that the prosecutor was not interrupted today because if I was the defense attorney I would strongly object to the prosecutor and the media referring to these things as "bomb-like devices." Not only is that a highly misleading and prejudicial term but it isn't accurate. These things are no more "bomb-like" than a homemade flashlight or a potato-clock. (Be careful you middle-schoolers not to leave your science fair project on the school bus accidently. :-)
These things should be called what they are: advertising signs. The media and law enforcement should stop inflaming things by repeatedly referring to them as "bomb-like" and just admit that they went off half-cocked themselves instead of approaching the situation more level-headedly.
I don't know what the MA statute says but I don't see how a prosecution can stand under a "hoax device" charge. Common sense informs us that a "bomb hoax device" is one which not only appears to be "bomb-like" but also is meant to create that impression. These signs even at a distance do not appear to be explosive (no fake dynomite sticks, or fake plastic explosives or fake pipe bombs, no clock ticking down, etc.) and certainly the intent to fool anyone into thinking that they were bombs was not there. If I had greater confidence that our society was not so fearful about terrorism, I would believe that there is no way these guys could get convicted on that charge.
I know one thing, if they do get convicted then anyone who intentionally or inadvertently leaves anything laying around in public, from an engine starter to a lunchpail to a backpack is going to have to worry that some idiot may come along and dial 911 before exercising some common sense and they might end of in jail.
All of this is just another example of how we let the terrorists "win" when we go all Chicken Little over things we don't understand.