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Man accused of threatening Walker claims free speech

By   /   April 19, 2012  /   No Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — The Portland, Maine, man accused of threatening Republican Gov. Scott Walker, Maine’s governor and several members of Congress, is asking a court to drop several of the counts against him, asserting his communications should be protected free speech.

Michael Thomas was indicted in October in U.S. District Court in Portland on federal charges of threatening members of Congress, mailing threatening communications, illegally possessing a firearm, interstate stalking and creating a terrorist hoax.

He remains in custody.

Thomas’ court-appointed defense attorney last month filed motions to dismiss seven counts in the eight-count indictment. A hearing on the motions is scheduled for 2 p.m. on May 4.

Many of the defense’s motions argue whether Thomas’ statements in multiple letters sent to politicians like Walker, and Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage, constitute true threats or are protected free speech under the First Amendment.

Defense counsel J. Hilary Billings, of Portland, did not return a Wisconsin Reporter phone call seeking comment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Wolff said the federal prosecutor contends Thomas’ speech should not be constitutionally protected.

“This goes well beyond hyperbole or protected venting into an actual threat to harm or kill somebody,” Woffe said.

According to a Wisconsin Department of Justice, or DOJ, incident report obtained by Wisconsin Reporter, a half-page document mailed to Walker on March 15, 2011 — similar to one mailed to U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both Republicans from Maine — stated that Republicans have no respect for the rule of law.

The letter stated the governor of Wisconsin should be killed, and Walker and several other governors must resign immediately “or we cannot guarantee your continued safety.” The letter concludes, “You have been warned.”

FBI officials in Wisconsin were alerted and the FBI office opened an investigation, according to DOJ.

Thomas was arrested March 25, 2011, at his home, where agents found an ammunition clip in his desk drawer, according to testimony from FBI Special Agent Pamela Flick. He reportedly told authorities that, had they shown up later, he would have fired on them.

LePage received three letters attributed to Thomas, noting in part that Thomas was willing to sacrifice his life to shoot the governor, according to Maine’s Morning Sentinel.

“This is escalating behavior. This is a very dangerous individual,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacey Neumann said during a court hearing, as printed in the Morning Sentinel. “The defendant has done nothing but instill fear in the victim and in the community.”

Judge John Rich III ruled that Thomas, 51, poses a danger to the community and must be held until trial.

Thomas, a convicted felon, also is charged with unlawfully possessing a firearm. He violated probation in 1999 and 2000, according to the court.

The defense has portrayed Thomas as a man suffering from mental illness, including antisocial and paranoid disorders entitling him to disability, according to the Morning Sentinel. He has a history of sending threatening letters.

Police said they identified Thomas through DNA from a letter sent to LePage.

He also has been charged with making threats against U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut.

Wolff said Thomas’ attorney has asked that charges of interstate stalking, related to an unidentified individual in Massachusetts over several years, be dismissed as well.

The terrorism hoax charge, Wolff said, relates to a letter containing a white powder mailed to the unidentified individual in Massachusetts. The powder was found to be non-toxic.

If convicted, Thomas faces sentences of up to 10 years in prison on charges of threatening members of Congress, and five years on charges of threatening the governors.

Tom Evenson, press secretary for the Friends of Scott Walker Campaign, said the campaign does not comment on security-related issues.

But Walker has discussed the matter with media. Most recently he told the Christian Broadcasting Network, as he told Wisconsin Reporter in late December, that his family has been the subject of several threats.

“Last year, my 16-year-old and my mother in her 70s were at a grocery store and got yelled at,” the governor said in the interview. “I’ve had my kids targeted on Facebook; we’ve had all sorts of these things.”

Just as he did in the Wisconsin Reporter interview, Walker acknowledged he’s received many more well wishes and prayers during his time in office.