After refusing a plea offer that would have spared him a criminal record, a 44-year-old Parkville man was convicted yesterday of threatening to kill the governor and sentenced to two years of probation.
Walter C. Abbott Jr., a construction worker, was found guilty of threatening a public official at the end of a one-day jury trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court.
Although he expressed regret - both upon his arrest and just before being sentenced yesterday evening - for sending the threatening, profanity-laced e-mail to Gov. Martin O'Malley, Abbott remained defiant after the trial in his criticism of the governor.
Noting that he was convicted of making a single threat in his note to the governor, he said of O'Malley, "Every day that man's in office, he's a threat to ... the American people and their jobs. Maybe one day he'll grow up and be a man."
Upset with the governor's policies on illegal immigration, Abbott went to Annapolis in March to testify in favor of legislation that he believed would help keep him from losing construction work to people who enter the country illegally.
He had previously e-mailed his complaints to the governor and other public officials without receiving a response.
On March 18, he logged onto the governor's Web site, looking for his phone number, Abbott testified. But at 7:30 a.m., the office had not yet opened.
"I didn't have any work that day, and I was just sitting there" in front of the computer, he told jurors. Finding a comment page that invited Maryland residents and visitors alike to share their thoughts with the governor, he said, "I wrote down how I felt."
After expressing frustration that he was about to lose his wife, his second house and his third construction company "because of no good [expletive] government like you," Abbott wrote, "If I ever get close enough to yoy [sic], I will rap [sic] my hands around your throat and strangle the life from you. This will solve many problems for true AMERICAN'S. Maybe you can send your MEXICAN army after me, you no good AMERICAN SELL OUT [expletive]," according to a copy of the e-mail introduced as evidence at trial.
Abbott signed the letter with his full name, address and phone number. Within five hours, Sgt. Adam Stachurski of the Maryland State Police and two other troopers knocked on his front door.
"He was visibly shaken and said yes, he sent it out," the sergeant testified. "He said as soon as he hit the button, he knew he wanted to take it back."
Defense attorney Arthur Frank told jurors that his client's threat to kill O'Malley was "a figure of speech" - similar to children's idle threats that they'd like to kill their teacher for giving too much homework or former Maryland first lady Kendel Ehrlich's comment in 2003 that she would like to shoot Britney Spears for being a bad role model for young girls.
The lawyer also said the e-mail was no different than a sign hung on the fence outside the Abbotts' home. It reads, "Deport illegals. Imprison Bush. By order of the American people."
"If you believe it's a legitimate threat, then find him guilty," Frank told jurors in his closing argument. "But if you believe it was an act of frustration, that he was trying to get the attention of the governor, that he could not have made good on such a threat, then he's making a political statement."
But prosecutor Leo Ryan Jr. countered that "it is a serious matter" and that Abbott's intent was irrelevant.
"It's the making of the threat that violates the law," the prosecutor said.
Jurors took an hour to convict Abbott. Judge Dana M. Levitz sentenced him to six months in jail, suspending that sentence. He also ordered him to serve two years' unsupervised probation, pay a $500 fine and stay at least 500 feet away from the governor and his wife.
Earlier in the day, Abbott refused a plea offer of probation before judgment. His lawyer said his client was confident in his innocence and didn't want such a finding to keep him from getting work in the future.