BALTIMORE (AP) — A Maryland man was sentenced Tuesday to seven months in federal prison for making death threats against U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris when they were candidates during the 2020 campaign.
The threats were contained in a scrawled letter left on the doorstep of a neighbor who had yard signs supporting the Democrats.
Looking disheveled with a thick black beard and wearing a red prison jumpsuit, James Dale Reed told a federal judge he was “deeply remorseful” for writing the letter in early October 2020. Among other things, it said he was among those with “scary guns” who would attack Biden and Harris and then execute them both on national television. The letter also threatened Democratic supporters.
“I don’t know what evil drove me to do such an act,” the slight man told U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Hollander at sentencing Tuesday.
The case is an extreme example of the volatile polarization that has permeated some of the country’s political conversations. Earlier this year, Reed had been found guilty of voter intimidation during a bench trial in state court regarding the same matter. He was found not guilty of a charge of threat of mass violence.
A home security camera captured images of Reed leaving the threatening letter on his neighbor's doorstep in Maryland's Frederick County, located in the northern part of the U.S. state near the Pennsylvania line.
An anonymous tip to police led to investigators to question Reed at his home. He initially denied writing the letter or being the person seen in the security camera footage. But after he gave palm prints and a handwriting sample to investigators, he acknowledged it was him, according to court documents.
Authorities obtained an extreme risk protective order to seize Reed’s firearms based on misdemeanor charges of voter intimidation and threats of mass violence.
On Tuesday, Hollander described Reed's letter as “horrifying," comparing it to the “same kind of mentality” that led to the appalling events of Jan 6, when insurrectionists disrupted the congressional certification of Biden’s presidential victory. Seven people died during and after the Capitol riot.
Prosecutors noted that it wasn't the first time Reed had sent threatening letters and there was a serious need for deterrence in his case. In 2014, he sent two emails to a nonprofit making threatening comments about then-President Barack Obama and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Prosecutors sought a sentence of 18 months.
Hollander sentenced him to seven months in prison and four months of home detention, followed by three years of supervised release. She gave Reed credit for time served in federal custody since February. He will have to participate in a mental health treatment program that deals with anger management.
“I think you have in fact paid a significant price for your errant ways,” said Hollander, noting that the 43-year-old with various health problems had no prior arrests.
Acting U.S. Attorney Jonathan Lenzner said “making threats against candidates and fellow citizens for their political beliefs undermines our democracy and will not be tolerated.”
David Mcfadden, The Associated Press