• Sat. Dec 3rd, 2022


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Judge sentences Alaska man to nearly 3 years in prison for threatening to kill senators

An Alaska man who left a barrage of menacing voicemail messages threatened to kill the state’s two U.S. senators was sentenced Friday to 32 months in prison.

U.S. District Judge Ralph R. Beistline sentenced Jay Allen Johnson, 65, after the Delta Junction resident pleaded guilty earlier this year to federal charges of threatening to kill or have an assassin murder GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska, the Justice Department said.

Each charge carries up to 10 years in prison, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska said in January.

As part of his plea agreement, prosecutors said Johnson will be prohibited from contacting the senators and their families or staff for three years after he is released from prison. He also will forfeit seven firearms seized from his home.

In addition to his prison sentence, Johnson was fined $5,000 on Friday, the Justice Department said.

NBC News has reached out to Johnson’s attorney for comment.

Johnson left 17 threatening voicemails for the senators over a five-month period and said the messages were aimed at retaliating against them “for performing their official duties,” prosecutors said in court documents.

In one voicemail left with Murkowski’s office in Washington, D.C., Johnson made numerous threats.

“I will find out everything, where you’re at. I will find out all your properties and I will burn everything you hope to have, and I will burn everything you hope to own,” he said in one message, according to court documents.

He also accused Murkowski of letting in “terrorists” and “assassins” and asked if the senator knew what a .50 caliber shell “does to a human head.” Later that month, Johnson left another voicemail threatening to hire an assassin to kill Murkowski, prosecutors said.

Johnson referred to his .50 caliber in a separate series of violent messages to Sullivan that began in April 2021 and continued until September, the Justice Department said. In one message, he threatened to get his “.50 caliber out,” and to come “with a vengeance,” according to court documents cited by prosecutors.

“The defendant’s conduct is simply unacceptable in a democracy,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Tansey wrote in a sentencing memo earlier this month. “Our system allows citizens to resolve political and legal conflicts through political and legal means. As political violence and domestic extremism grow, violent intimidation of public officials must result in serious criminal consequences.”

Johnson’s lawyer, Jason Weiner, said his client suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and poor physical health, adding that Johnson “knew he would never act on his threats.”

“Between the prescribed narcotics, pain, and self-medicating, Mr. Johnson was not himself,” Weiner wrote in a sentencing memo. He argued that the turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic and Johnson’s alcohol use also contributed to his erratic behavior.

Threats against members of Congress intensified last year in the months following the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Federal authorities Friday condemned threats like the ones against the Alaska senators.

“The erosion of civility in our political discourse will never justify threats or acts of violence,” U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska John E. Kuhn, Jr. said in a statement. “Johnson’s actions must be punished, and the Department of Justice will always work to ensure our elected officials can serve without fear of harm.”

NBC News has reached out to Murkowski and Sullivan’s offices for comment.

Johnson’s sentencing came the same day a federal jury declined to convict four men accused of concocting a plan to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whom they blamed for public health-related restrictions she ordered early in the coronavirus pandemic.