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Mentally ill Vietnam vet gets probation for threatening St. Petersburg VA employee

TAMPA — A mentally ill Vietnam veteran was sentenced Friday to five years of probation for making repeated threats to kill his Veterans Affairs financial guardian and blow up the agency's office building.

Ronald Franklin Barnes, 59, of Wildwood had already spent close to 15 months in custody following his arrest. He pleaded guilty in August to making the threats, and U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich granted a defense motion to vary from the sentencing range of 15 to 21 months based on the amount of time Barnes has already served.

Barnes admitted to making several phone calls to the VA's St. Petersburg office threatening to bomb the building and kill his fiduciary guardian. He also claimed to be a sniper who served in the Marines, and said he planned to use an M-16 to kill the VA employee.

Assistant federal public defender Alec Fitzgerald Hall said in court that Barnes served in Vietnam in the U.S. Army, and was merely blowing off steam. Barnes also called U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson's Orlando office on several occasions to make the same threats against his fiduciary.

Barnes told the judge that he had stopped taking his medication because he didn't like the side effects.

"If I'm on my meds, I don't act like this," Barnes said, promising to stay on them.

"Whatever lack of control you have over your speech, which seems to be a big problem with you, you can wind up in serious jeopardy, which means death," Kovachevich told Barnes. "We've had so much happen, including within the last 24 hours that causes grave concern with people's actions."

According to court records, Barnes has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress and bipolar disorders. His documented history of mental illness dates back to 1987, his attorney said.

Kevin Graham can be reached at kgraham@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Mentally ill Vietnam vet gets probation for threatening St. Petersburg VA employee 11/06/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 6, 2009 11:48pm]
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