Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Judge testifies in Tampa about death threats sent by inmate in psychiatric ward

TAMPA — A Florida appellate judge found himself on a witness stand Tuesday trying to recall one of the thousands of defendants he sent to prison while he served as a circuit judge in Tampa for eight years.

The judge said he couldn't specifically remember the case or the face.

But the defendant, a sex offender, hadn't forgotten him. From a prison psychiatric ward, he sent the judge two letters that threatened him and his family and caused the Hillsborough County Courthouse to be evacuated in 2009, a jury learned Tuesday.

Kenneth McElwaney, 43, self-proclaimed member of the white supremacist group Aryan Nations and nicknamed "Lizard Man," is charged with mailing the threats to Judge Anthony Black, then a Hillsborough circuit judge. Black now serves on Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland.

Because of Black's Hillsborough court ties, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Joseph A. Bulone was brought in to preside.

Lawyers sparred all day over whether everything McElwaney claimed was true. He was in a prison psychiatric ward but said he faked his way in for the air-conditioning. Detectives found no connection to the Aryan Nations other than his boasts. They did find that he was a prolific letter writer and was somehow being fed personal information on court officials from the outside.

In 2005, Black sentenced McElwaney to 30 years in prison for violating probation two years before. McElwaney had originally gotten probation from Circuit Judge Harry Lee Coe after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of attempted sexual battery in 1988.

Prosecutors said McElwaney brooded over Black's prison sentence for five years before writing the letter that Assistant State Attorney Justin Diaz read to jurors.

"Thanks for f------ my life up," the letter said. "I have not forgotten you. I've been keeping up with you more than you know."

The writer claimed that his fellow Aryan Nations soldiers had orders to blow up the judge's house, kill him and kidnap "very sexy" female family members to rape and torture. The writer claimed to know where the judge lived and went to church, though the letters were mailed to the courthouse.

The writer also claimed that his soldiers killed Judge Coe, whose July 2000 death was ruled a suicide. The writer said the suicide was staged. "I gave orders to have him killed."

It concluded "Rest in hell, judge" and was signed "McElwaney Kenneth."

A judicial assistant opened that letter and gave it to Black. Testifying Tuesday, Black said he didn't want to make too much of the threat. But a second letter addressed to Black, opened by a court clerk, contained a white powder, causing an evacuation of the courthouse on April 27, 2009. The powder, feared to be anthrax, turned out to be harmless.

Black sent a detective to Union Correctional Institution in Raiford to tell McElwaney to stop writing letters.

Hillsborough sheriff's detective Jose Morales testified that McElwaney insisted he had a right to send all the letters he wanted. The detective said he asked McElwaney why he was in the psych ward.

"He chuckled," the officer testified. "He said, 'Have you been next door?' " — meaning the main prison. McElwaney said it was hot there, so he misbehaved to get moved to the air-conditioned ward.

He was charged with making deadly threats and brought back to Hillsborough.

That's when the court clerk who had found the white powder got a letter at home. It threatened her, too, for preventing the powder letter's delivery. "I'll make you pay as well," it said.

A jail guard testified that McElwaney bragged that someone had mailed him documents that showed the clerk's name and address. The guard said McElwaney claimed he had written a stepbrother, telling him to burn the clerk's home down.

McElwaney's attorneys offered no opening statement. Jurors were told they may offer an insanity defense today, before the trial concludes.

John Barry can be reached at jbarry@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

Judge testifies in Tampa about death threats sent by inmate in psychiatric ward 10/11/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 11, 2011 10:50pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. No toll lanes north of downtown Tampa in three of four interstate proposals

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Express lanes may not be coming to downtown Tampa after all. Or at least not to the stretch of Interstate 275 that goes north through Bearss Avenue.

    Seminole Heights resident Kimberly Overman discusses the new interstate options with V.M. Ybor resident Chris Vela (left), Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp and HNTB consultant Chloe Coney during a Tampa Bay Express meeting Monday night at the Barrymore Hotel. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times]
  2. No lack of issues facing St. Petersburg's six council candidates

    Elections

    ST. PETERSBURG — The six candidates for City Council gathered Monday evening in the very chamber to which they aspire to serve.

    St. Petersburg City Council candidates (from left)  Brandi Gabbard and Barclay Harless in District 2; Jerick Johnston and incumbent council member Darden Rice in District 4; and Justin Bean and Gina Driscoll of District 6. All six candidates appeared at Monday night's forum at City Hall sponsored by the League of Women Voters. [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]

  3. Iraq's Kurds vote on independence, raising regional fears

    World

    IRBIL, Iraq — Iraqi Kurds voted Monday in a landmark referendum on supporting independence, a move billed by the Kurdish leadership as an exercise in self-determination but viewed as a hostile act by Iraq's central government. Neighboring Turkey even threatened a military response.

    People celebrate Monday after voting closed in a referendum on independence in Irbil, Iraq.
  4. North Korean diplomat says Trump has 'declared war'

    War

    UNITED NATIONS — North Korea's top diplomat said Monday that President Donald Trump's weekend tweet was a "declaration of war" and North Korea has the right to retaliate by shooting down U.S. bombers, even in international airspace.

    North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, speaks outside the U.N. Plaza Hotel in New York on Monday.
  5. Pinellas grants St. Pete's request to add millions to pier budget

    Local Government

    Times Staff Writer

    The Pinellas County Commission has granted St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's request to dedicate millions more toward the city's new pier.

    The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday  voted 7-1 to appropriate $17.6 million for the over-water portion of the Pier District. This is a rendering of what the new Pier District could look like. [Courtesy of St. Petersburg]