On a night in June 2011, a man named Brian Stacy sent emails to a federal judge that a defense lawyer would later describe as “vile, crude, bigoted, racist, homophobic and offensive in many ways.”
The notes were laced with misspelled words, grammatical mistakes and exclamation marks. They featured numerous racial epithets. And one of the emails, prosecutors said, explicitly threatened to kill the judge.
Stacy was convicted last year in New Mexico federal district court and sentenced to nearly four years in prison. He lost his appeal Wednesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which upheld the conviction.
Stacy’s lawyer, Scott Davidson, unsuccessfully argued that the emails to Senior Judge John Conway were the “unfortunate product of a mentally ill person in need of psychiatric help.”
The emails, Davidson wrote in court papers in the Tenth Circuit, “fail to show a clarity of purpose or a seriousness that would indicate to a reasonable person that the author intended to actually injure anyone.” Davidson said the emails “appear to be careless and idle talk.”
A three-judge appellate panel—Chief Judge Mary Beck Briscoe, sitting with senior judges Stephen Anderson and Wade Brorby—described Stacy’s emails as “vicious and frightening, laced with expletives, racial epithets and claims that the author had killed others and would kill Judge Conway.
“Judge Conway perceived the emails as a true threat, and after reading them he took additional precautions in his day-to-day life to ensure his safety,” the appeals court said. “No additional actions by Stacy were necessary to convey an intent to inflict injury on Judge Conway.”
Between 2006 and 2008, Conway sentenced Stacy to prison three times for crimes that included possession of an unregistered firearm. Conway, in one case, sentenced Stacy to two years in prison for threatening to kill a federal probation officer, the appeals court noted.
The government wasn’t required to prove Stacy had the intent or ability to act on the threats, an assistant U.S. attorney, David Pimsner in Phoenix, wrote in court papers. “The question is whether those who hear or read the threat reasonably consider that an actual threat has been made,” Pimsner said.
The appeals court dismissed the defense argument that the seeming incoherence of the emails voided the communication of a threat.
“[T]he misspellings and grammar errors do not diminish the threatening nature of the emails; after all, poor spellers commit crimes, too,” the panel said.