ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday rejected a plea deal for two men who prosecutors say made hundreds of harassing phone calls to Sarah Palin’s lawyer, calling a proposed sentence of probation too lenient.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess said Shawn Christy, 20, and his father Craig Christy, 48, represented a risk to the public after engaging in a pattern of harassment against a variety of people.
“While one person may be the object of their ire at one point, it clearly shifts to others,” Burgess said, saying the men had harassed and threatened children, law-enforcement agents and judges. “They seem undeterred,”
He set a trial date in the case for January 3, although federal prosecutors said it was possible attorneys could negotiate a new plea agreement in the meantime.
The father and son from McAdoo, Pennsylvania, were initially prosecuted in state court in connection with a barrage of telephone calls and other messages sent to Palin and her family members.
A state magistrate judge issued a series of restraining orders last year and earlier this year preventing them from contacting Palin, a former Alaska governor and the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, and her family members.
Fairbanks-based attorney John Tiemessen represented Palin in that case and later became the subject of the Christys’ anger, according to federal prosecutors.
They were arrested in Pennsylvania in August after making repeated calls to Tiemessen, his law firm colleagues and their family members, according to court papers. Some of the calls were laced with profanity, threats of rape and other violence.
“Let’s be very clear. These are extremely serious and disturbing threats,” Burgess said.
Shawn and Craig Christy, who remain jailed in Anchorage, filed agreements in November to plead guilty to federal charges making harassing interstate telephone calls.
In exchange, they agreed to sentences of five years probation with required mental-health treatment and be subject to a nearly complete denial of computer and Internet services.
But Burgess said he feared that probation would not be sufficient to control the Christys, saying the case “raises serious concerns about their mental health.”
Craig Christy’s court-appointed attorney told Burgess the two can be deterred from committing additional violations.
“They do, sometimes maybe in a passive-aggressive way, listen to what the court tells them to do and obey what the court tells them to do,” attorney Jim Wendt said.
In presentencing reports filed prior to Wednesday’s hearing, prosecutors and defense attorneys both described the two men as suffering from serious mental-health problems.
“Although the calls were threatening, and severe, and although Shawn Christy did travel to Alaska on Sarah Palin’s birthday in February, 2011, there is little evidence that either of the Christys intended to act on their threats. The attention — the publicity — is what they crave,” prosecutors said in their sentencing memorandum.
Shawn Christy, once a fan of Palin, was previously investigated over threats against President Barack Obama and Arizona Senator John McCain, Palin’s running mate.
A 2009 psychiatric evaluation conducted at the request of the Secret Service concluded that the younger Christy was highly intelligent but had severe cognitive difficulties, possibly linked to brain damage caused by Lyme disease.
Untreated Lyme disease may also have been the cause of Craig Christy’s brain dysfunction, said a presentencing memorandum filed Monday by his defense attorney.
“Craig Christy does not contest that the calls made by him and his son caused unnecessary concern and fear. He is ashamed of many of the things he said and is truly apologetic,” said the memorandum.
Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Jerry Norton