Woman to plead guilty in Fla. school lockdown case

AP News
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Posted: May 12, 2011 3:53 PM
Woman to plead guilty in Fla. school lockdown case

A Florida woman will plead guilty to making e-mail and telephone threats involving guns and schools to a radio talk show host that forced hundreds of thousands of Broward County students into lockdown for hours, according to a court filing Thursday by the woman's attorneys.

The court document says that Ellisa Martinez, 48, will plead guilty to transmitting a threat in interstate commerce, which is punishable by a maximum five-year prison sentence. A judge set a hearing on the change of plea for Monday.

According to the FBI, an e-mail from an address traced to Martinez was sent Nov. 10 to conservative radio host Joyce Kaufman, who broadcasts from Broward County. It discussed gun rights and added that the writer was "planning something big around a government building here in Broward County, maybe a post office, maybe a school.

"I'm going to teach all the government hacks working there what the 2nd amendment is all about," the e-mail said, according to the FBI.

Later that morning, the FBI says, a woman calling from Martinez's cell phone contacted Kaufman's flagship radio station, WFTL, and said her husband, a fictional person named "Bill Johnson," was going to a school to start shooting. That led Broward school officials to order a lockdown for all 300 schools, affecting some 275,000 students in the nation's sixth-largest public school system.

Martinez fled her home in New Port Richey, hundreds of miles away from Broward on Florida's Gulf coast, after FBI agents showed up asking questions about the e-mail. She was arrested Nov. 23 in Southern California and flown to Miami, where she has been held in custody without bail.

Her court-appointed attorney Samuel Randall did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment, and prosecutors also declined comment. The FBI has never said why Martinez might have made the threats.

In court papers, Randall said Martinez is pleading guilty on the condition that she can pursue an appeal of a judge's rejection of her attempt to get the charges dismissed. Martinez contends that some of her communications may be constitutionally protected free speech and that her indictment never accused her of actually intending to harm anyone as the threat law requires.

The threats came just after Kaufman, a champion of gun rights on her talk show, had been chosen as chief of staff by freshman U.S. Rep. Alan West, a Republican favorite of the Tea Party. Kaufman decided after the lockdown not to take the position, she said, to avoid political repercussions for West.

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Curt Anderson is on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/Miamicurt