Monday, May 17, 2010
Ninth Circuit Upholds Conviction of L.A. Man in 2006 Anthrax Hoax
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a Los Angeles man’s convictions for mailing envelopes containing threatening letters and white powder to celebrities and politicians in 2006.
A three-judge panel said the government did not need to prove that Chad Conrad Castagana intended his victims to believe that the mixture of laundry soap and cleanser was anthrax in order to convict him under federal law criminalizing false information and hoaxes.
Castagana mailed 14 letters to comedians Jon Stewart and David Letterman, Viacom executive Sumner Redstone, U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Charles Schumer, and MSNBC political commentator Keith Olbermann between Sept. 7 and Nov. 9, 2006.
The letters threatened the recipients and expressed hostility to their assumed left-wing political views. They railed against “demagogues” and indicated that retaliation would be taken against the recipients for their hand in “poisoning the well.”
Castagana was apprehended at his home days after mailing the last letter and, after being read his Miranda rights, detailed to investigators the steps he took to cover his tracks.
He also admitted that his goal in including the powder was to get attention for the letters, but denied that it was “symbolic” or meant to represent anthrax. Instead, he said, it signified that liberals had become “toxic,” and represented the “toxic” messages with which the celebrity liberals were polluting the airways.
Castagana was charged with violating 18 U.S.C. § 1038(a)(1), but he argued that he suffered from mental disorders that prevented him from forming the intent required to violate the law.
The statute prohibits engaging “in any conduct with intent to convey false or misleading information under circumstances where such information may reasonably be believed and where such information indicates that an activity has taken, is taking, or will take place that would constitute a violation of [specified anti-terrorism laws].”
Passed by Congress in 2004, it was part of the Stop Terrorists and Military Hoaxes Act.
Castagana introduced evidence of a long history of a severe mental condition and an expert testified that Castagana suffered from Asperger’s disorder along with several other mental conditions. The expert also described Castagana as having “brain damage.”
Castagana then proposed a jury instruction requiring the government to prove that he not only intended to send false or misleading information, but also intended his targets, as reasonable persons, to believe the envelopes contained anthrax. U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper of the Central District of California, who died in January, declined to give the instruction and a jury found Castagana guilty.
On appeal, Castagana contended that Cooper erred in denying his request, but Judge William C. Canby Jr. wrote that she acted correctly.
Rejecting Castagana’s argument that the statute was ambiguous as to the intent required, Canby said the language “clearly indicate[s] that Congress intended to apply an objective standard to the second part of the statute, explicitly distinguished from the initial portion to which the explicit subjective intent requirement applies.”
Judges Kim McLane Wardlaw and Consuelo M. Callahan joined Canby in his opinion.
The case is United States v. Castagana, 08-50057.
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