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Prison inmate gets 30 more years for threatening Hillsborough court officials

Kenneth McElwaney claimed in threatening letters to a judge and a Hillsborough County court clerk to belong to a white supremacist group. The letter to the clerk contained a white powder, which turned out to be his lithium. 

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Kenneth McElwaney claimed in threatening letters to a judge and a Hillsborough County court clerk to belong to a white supremacist group. The letter to the clerk contained a white powder, which turned out to be his lithium. 

TAMPA — Though he never had an Aryan army to carry out his orders and though the white powder he terrorized court officials with turned out to be his own prescription lithium, Kenneth McElwaney was sentenced to 30 years in prison Thursday for mailing death threats to a judge and court clerk.

The jury had been asked to choose between two reasons why McElwaney sent the death threats:

His defense said he was insane; he had a voice in his head he called "Lucifer."

The prosecution said he was just plain mean.

He didn't say a word during his trial. After his conviction, he said in a hoarse voice, "I'm sorry for causing problems."

In 2009, McElwaney was in the psychiatric ward at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford when he sent two threatening letters.

One was opened by the judicial assistant of then-Hillsborough Circuit Judge Anthony Black. Five years earlier, Black had sentenced McElwaney to 30 years in prison after he violated probation for an attempted sexual battery conviction. Black now serves on the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland.

A second threatening letter was opened by a Hillsborough County court clerk. When she unsealed it, a white powder spilled on her blouse. Fearing anthrax, deputies evacuated the courthouse. It turned out to be McElwaney's lithium.

In both letters, McElwaney claimed he belonged to a white supremacist group called Aryan Nations that would kill Black and kidnap and rape his family members.

Black sent a detective to the prison to warn McElwaney to stop writing letters, but the prisoner said it was his constitutional right. He was then charged with making deadly threats and brought back to jail in Hillsborough.

While in jail, he found the clerk's name and address on an arrest report and sent a third letter directly to her home. He later told his attorney he found the information about the clerk "irresistible" and asked her to take the documents away.

During his four-day trial this week, a psychologist testifying for the defense said McElwaney has suffered mental illnesses since his abusive childhood. He said the defendant had a bipolar disorder with psychotic features.

Psychologist Michael Gamache said McElwaney was told by a voice in his head to kill Black. Gamache said McElwaney had stopped taking his medication in order to hear the voice better. McElwaney said the voice assured him Black would be frightened into releasing him from prison.

But a psychiatrist for the prosecution found the opposite. Dr. Bala Rao agreed McElwaney is mentally ill, but said he wrote the letters only because he was angry at the judge.

"He was just mean and vindictive."

The jury took an hour and a half to find McElwaney guilty of three counts of sending written threats to kill or injure, one count of sending a hoax weapon of mass destruction and one count of harassing a witness. The jury found him not guilty of aggravated stalking.

Because of Black's Hillsborough court ties, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Joseph A. Bulone presided over the trial. He sentenced McElwaney to 30-year concurrent sentences on each of the five counts. The sentences will begin after McElwaney finishes his current 30-year sentence in 2020.

McElwaney is 42. He will be in his 80s when he is released.

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

Prison inmate gets 30 more years for threatening Hillsborough court officials 10/13/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 14, 2011 12:07am]
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