Fla. woman pleads guilty in school lockdown case

AP News
Posted: May 16, 2011 12:35 PM
Fla. woman pleads guilty in school lockdown case

A Florida woman pleaded guilty Monday to making threats about guns to a conservative radio talk show host, triggering an hours-long lockdown affecting more than a quarter-million students in the nation's sixth-largest school system.

Ellisa Martinez, 48, was trying to make a point about the dangers of fiery right-wing rhetoric involving guns when she sent an e-mail and then telephoned talk radio host Joyce Kaufman on Nov. 10, her attorney said.

"She didn't mean to scare anyone," said Sam Randall, an assistant federal public defender. "She was trying to make a satirical point."

Martinez, of New Port Richey in the Tampa Bay area, made the threats after reading online that Kaufman had been chosen as chief of staff for Republican Rep. Allen West, a tea party favorite, according to court documents. Kaufman, who broadcasts from WFTL in Pompano Beach, opted not to take the job after the lockdown to avoid political fallout for West.

The e-mail, traced by investigators to Martinez's computer, discussed some of Kaufman's statements about gun rights and added that the writer was "planning something big" at a Broward County government building or a school.

"I'm going to walk in and teach all the government hacks working there what the 2nd Amendment is all about," the e-mail said. "We'll end this year of 2010 in a blaze of glory for sure."

A few hours later, a woman called the radio station saying that her husband _ a fictional person named "Bill Johnson" _ was "going to shoot up a school in Pembroke Pines," a city in western Broward County. The call was traced to Martinez's cell phone.

That prompted Broward officials to order some 275,000 students locked down for several hours in 300 public, charter and private schools. Officers from at least six police agencies responded to secure school buildings.

Prosecutor Michael Walleisa said it doesn't matter if Martinez meant to do harm.

"The heart of the crime is intentionally sending a true threat in interstate commerce," said Walleisa, an assistant U.S. attorney. "The government doesn't have to prove that the defendant intended to carry out the threat."

Martinez fled Florida after she was contacted by the FBI and was eventually arrested in Southern California. She also told investigators initially that she had temporarily lost her cell phone at a restaurant the day the threats were made, but surveillance video did not show her at the restaurant that day.

She initially planned to mount an insanity defense, but that effort was dropped after she was examined by mental health experts.

Sentencing was set for July 14. The charge of making a threat in interstate commerce carries a maximum prison sentence of five years, but Randall said federal sentencing guidelines would put Martinez in the 12-month to 18-month range.

The guilty plea has one condition allowing Martinez to appeal 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.


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