You hear the one about the Vermont comedian who threatened to kill President Obama on Twitter?
The Secret Service wasn't laughing in August when 43-year-old Chris King of Bellows Falls tweeted a message to the White House that read, "I am dying inside. And I am plainly stating to you that I am going to kill the president." Agents arrested King at his home for the federal crime of "threats against president and successors to the presidency" in October. He's remained locked up since, while lawyers argue about whether he is competent to stand trial, and if he should be released from custody pending trial.
(Note: Video is from King's UStream page and apparently documents his trip to Senator Patrick Leahy's office in Washington, D.C. on June 28, 2010.)
Yesterday in federal court, U.S. District Judge William K. Sessions III denied King's request for release from custody, saying he believes that without psychological treatement, King poses a danger.
"How do you release someone charged with such a serious, violent offense without some assurance to the court that he doesn't pose a risk to himself and others?" Sessions asked King's lawyer, assistant federal public defender Steven Barth.
Sessions ordered King to be evaluated for competency and public safety risk by a Vermont-based mental health expert. A report and hearing on the evaluation is due within 30 days.
King attended the hearing, dressed in a green fleece and blue jeans, his hair cropped to a crew cut. He did not speak during the 35-minute hearing.
Raised in Vermont, King worked as a stand-up comic in the Orlando area under the name "Chris King Pop Icon" in venues like Will's Pub before moving back to Vermont in 2005 to care for his ailing father, according to published reports and court records. Nothing suggests King's threat was a joke, though federal prosecutors have said they do not believe King attempted to carry out his threat against Obama.
On his blog, King alternately rants and jokes about politics, 9/11 conspiracy theories, media personalities and why people should buy his Chris King Pop Icon merchandise.
Among the things revealed at yesterday's hearing: Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara Masterson said King had a "ritual" of walking from his house in Bellows Falls "into town to buy cigarettes" with a gun in his pocket. While he has no arrest record, Masterson said King has had "constant run-ins" with state police because he drives without an actual Vermont license plate; King's license plate is homemade, Masterson says, and reads "United States of Sovereignty."
Masterson cited King's belief that the 9/11 terror attacks were an inside job as evidence he might suffer from mental illness. "He assumed he would be assasinated" for exposing the truth, "which is why he stopped paying his mortage," Masterson said. King was foreclosed on and evicted from his house in October.
Barth, King's public defender, said that King should be released into a Vermont-based treatment facility, arguing he does not pose real danger to the community and is not a flight risk. While acknowledging there is a "mental health component to this case," Barth said King has no criminal record and no history of mental health issues.
Weeks ago, Barth accompanied King to the HowardCenter for an evaluation. But in a letter to King on October 28, the HowardCenter denied King admission, writing, "you do not have sufficient treatment history and it is possible that you do not meet the level of functioning criterion." Barth asked to have King transferred from jail to Kieve, a treatment facility in Springfield run by Health Care & Rehabilitation Services of Southeastern Vermont.
But Sessions balked.
"Based upon what I have seen, there is clear and convincning evidence he poses a risk to himself and others without treatment," Sessions said.
Both Masterson and Barth exited the courtroom without answering reporters' questions.