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The Seattle Times
By STEVEN DUBOIS
Thursday, March 6, 2014
PORTLAND, Ore. — A federal judge sentenced a Vancouver, Wash., man to two years in prison for sending threatening letters laced with a suspicious powder to members of Congress, journalists, and the comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
Christopher Lee Carlson, 41, apologized Wednesday, telling the judge he was having a manic episode two years ago when he mailed more than 100 letters that warned of a deadly pathogen but turned out to be a mixture of celery salt and corn starch.
“I’m not the type of person who wants to hurt or scare anyone,” said Carlson, a former nurse who was frustrated that the Occupy movement and President Barack Obama did not bring greater change.
Carlson faced a maximum of five years in prison after pleading guilty in October to mailing one of his letters to U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. Others counts were dropped in exchange for the plea. Federal prosecutors sought a three-year sentence. Judge Michael Simon, whose wife is a congresswoman, went a year less because Carlson is a first-time offender and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after the arrest.
Carlson did not commit a crime while on pretrial release, and a psychiatrist testified he is responding well to a combination of Prozac and Zyprexa.
Roughly two dozen letters from the mass mailing were opened, and the contents alarmed congressional offices in Washington, D.C., and field offices across the country. In the charge related to Mikulski, all 10 staff members in her Baltimore office were evacuated to an empty room for about two hours.
U.S. Attorney Stephen Peifer said Carlson appeared to have fun during the episode. Besides the threats and mysterious substance, the letters included a photo of young Johnny Cash flipping his middle finger toward a camera.
“Mr. Carlson was flipping his finger to the Congress when he was committing this crime,” he said.
In seeking less than the maximum sentence, Peifer and co-prosecutor David Atkinson acknowledged that Carlson has a mental illness. They argued, however, that he has a history of depression without psychotic episodes and faked the symptoms of bipolar disorder after his arrest. They listed the many steps he took to avoid detection, such as wearing gloves, not licking stamps and fearing surveillance cameras.
Dr. Jerry Larsen, a psychiatrist who examined Carlson and diagnosed him with bipolar disorder, said trying to avoid arrest is not inconsistent with being mentally ill or psychotic. He quipped there’s the old line: “I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.”
Carlson’s attorney, Ellen Pitcher, sought a sentence that did not include prison time. She said her client had no criminal history until he was almost 40 years old and is now on the right medication.
Carlson’s wife, Adrienne, provided the tip that led police to her husband. The two are still together, and Pitcher said Adrienne needs her husband at home, not in prison.
“She would probably suffer more than he would at this point,” she said.
Carlson was ordered to report to prison by April 17. He hugged his wife as the courtroom cleared.