A jury has convicted a Tennessee man of threatening U.S. Rep. John Boccieri. The phone call came in March when the health care debate divided the country.
After the verdict was read and the jury left the courtroom, defendant James Schmidlin shook hands with the federal prosecutor who had just helped convict him.
“Good luck to you,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Duncan Brown told Schmidlin.
It was an interlude of only a few seconds.
Even shorter in duration than a 44-second phone call the defendant had placed to U.S. Rep. John Boccieri’s office March 4.
The phone call prompted an FBI investigation, led to two criminal charges that Schmidlin threatened to burn the 16th District congressman’s house and landed him in U.S. District Court this week.
Nearing the end of its second day of deliberations Friday, the 12-member jury found Schmidlin guilty on the threat charge — officially known as communication involving threats of arson. At the same time, it found him not guilty of phone harassment.
SENTENCING SET FOR APRIL
The 40-year-old Schmidlin, who holds a master’s degree in divinity, and who with his wife, Cynthia, recently taught on a religious mission in the Philippines, will be sentenced after April 15. He faces 10 to 16 months in prison.
Neither side disputed that Schmidlin, the father of a 22-month-old daughter, placed the phone call.
He phoned Boccieri’s office and dozens of other congress members and radio talk shows during the heat of the debate on the federal health care bill, which Schmidlin opposed. Boccieri wound up voting for the bill. Last month, Boccieri, D-Alliance, he lost his bid for re-election to Republican Jim Renacci, of Wadsworth.
Schmidlin lives in Cleveland, Tenn. An employee of that state’s children’s services department, Schmidlin testified that he didn’t know anything of Boccieri’s past military service, what the congressman looked like or even where he lived.
CONFLICTING VERSIONS OF PHONE CALL
His version of the cell-phone call he made to Boccieri’s Canton office: “He freaking doesn’t get it … we are going to freaking burn down this house of cards.”
Schmidlin said he spoke figuratively and in metaphors — that it wasn’t a threat to burn down Boccieri’s home.
The congressman’s executive assistant, Katie Jones, heard it differently. She took Schmidlin’s call that morning. He had refused to give her his name.
Within six minutes of hanging up, she had forwarded information about it to the Capitol Police in Washington, D.C.
She testified that Schmidlin said: “John Boccieri doesn’t get it. He just doesn’t get it. I swear I’m going to burn his (expletive) house down. I will burn his (expletive) house down.”
QUESTIONS FOR JUDGE
During deliberations that began Thursday, the jury asked Judge David Dowd Jr. a series of questions about the charges. At one point Friday morning, they gave him a note that said they couldn’t arrive at a decision on the threat count.
Page 2 of 2 - He told them to keep talking and agreed to have a court reporter read back transcripts of Schmidlin’s and Jones’ testimony, which the jury had asked for earlier in the morning.
Shortly after hearing it for a second time, the jury returned with its verdicts.
Debra Hughes, one of Schmidlin’s attorneys, said she was disappointed in the outcome and unhappy with the instructions the jury received before it began deliberating.
“James still maintains his innocence,” she said.