Court of Special Appeals throws out case of threatening e-mail to O'Malley

Defendant had said e-mail was a political statement

February 26, 2010|By Andrea F. Siegel | Baltimore Sun reporter

Maryland's second-highest court hit the "delete" button Thursday on the conviction of a Parkville man accused of sending Gov. Martin O'Malley a threatening e-mail.

The Court of Special Appeals ruled that a Baltimore County judge erred in failing to define "threat" for the jury deciding Walter Carl Abbott's case or to tell jurors how to determine if the e-mail constituted a threat.

Abbott contended that his obscenity-laden e-mail of March 18, 2008, in which he threatened to strangle the governor, was nothing more than a political statement, protected under the First Amendment, and that he wanted to get O'Malley's attention.

Abbott wrote that he feared losing his construction company. He had testified against illegal immigration before the House Judiciary Committee a week earlier.

Abbott was convicted of two counts of making a threat and given a six-month suspended sentence and two years of probation.

"There is a tension between a threat to a political official and free speech," said Baltimore County Deputy State's Attorney Leo Ryan. Prosecutors intend to retry the case, he said, noting that the appeals court did not take issue with the evidence.

Its ruling noted that the e-mail could be viewed "as more than sufficient to find that appellant willfully and knowingly made a true threat" against O'Malley.

Defense lawyer Arthur M. Frank, who asked Judge Dana M. Levitz to instruct jurors about what a "real threat" was, said the ruling will allow a new jury to fully consider Abbott's position.

"It becomes a jury question whether he meant it as a political statement that becomes protected as a political statement, or he meant to hurt the governor," Frank said.

Abbott admitted that he wrote the e-mail that included: "If i [sic] 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 [sic]."

The governor's office forwarded the e-mail to state police, who said Abbott told them he regretted hitting the "send" button and did not intend to physically harm the governor.

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