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Death threats against Murray result in arrest

Phone calls cite senator’s support of health care reform bill

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., greets participants who took part in a roundtable discussion with her at the nonprofit Casa Latina in Seattle on Tuesday. Murray took part in the scheduled event as planned, despite the arrest of a man earlier in the day who was charged with threatening to kill Murray over her support for health care reform. Murray declined to comment on the case but told reporters that she feels safe.  (Associated Press)
Mike Carter Seattle Times

SEATTLE – A 64-year-old Washington state man has been charged with threatening to kill U.S. Sen. Patty Murray over her support of the National Health Care Reform Act.

The FBI and local police arrested Charles Alan Wilson at his Selah, Wash., home early Tuesday.

According to the charges, staffers in Murray’s downtown Seattle office had become concerned over a series of phone calls by an unknown man over the past several months. The calls came from a blocked number and often were made in the evenings or on weekends.

Usually, according to a staffer identified by the initials “M.G.,” the calls were merely vulgar and harassing.

But on March 22, “the caller began to make overt threats to kill and/or injure Senator Murray,” according to the complaint signed by FBI Agent Carolyn Woodbury.

In that message, a man the FBI says it has identified as Wilson stated, “I hope you realize there’s a target on your back now. … Kill the … senator! I’ll donate the lead.”

In several other vulgar and profanity-laced messages left over the next week, the caller repeatedly threatened the Democratic senator’s life and said he “hopes somebody kills” President Barack Obama as well, according to portions of transcripts in the complaint.

The FBI obtained the phone number that coincided with the calls through a search warrant served on Verizon. An agent called the number posing as a representative of “Patients United Now,” a group that has called for the repeal of the Health Care Reform Act, and identified Wilson by his voice, according to the charges.

The use of that group, which is affiliated with the pro-tea party, anti-big-government organization “Americans For Prosperity,” caused some concern among the latter organization’s officials.

FBI Special Agent Fred Gutt spoke with AFP officials and said “they weren’t happy” about being affiliated with Wilson or the perception that they might be working with the feds.

“They didn’t like it, but they understood how it happened,” Gutt said.

He said that the agents needed to talk to Wilson to verify his identity, and they wanted a ruse to get him to the phone. They found Patients United Now on the Web and called the contact number to ask permission. The number was disconnected.

“They presumed the organization was defunct,” Gutt said. “It wasn’t.”

“It’s unfortunate, but remember they were working to address a violent threat,” Gutt said.

AFP did not return several messages for comment left at its headquarters.

The complaint notes the timing of the threats corresponded to the passage of the health care bill, and in several of the messages the caller “expressed his strong disapproval for the health care reform legislation, and the fact that Senator Murray voted in support of the bill.”

The FBI said Wilson possesses a concealed-weapons permit.

Wilson made an initial appearance at federal court in Yakima on Tuesday on one count of threatening a federal official. He was appointed a public defender for the hearing and ordered to be kept in custody pending a detention hearing set for Friday.

His sister, Helen Evans, 60, of Yakima, attended the hearing and said her brother had no history of making threats. She last saw him a couple of weeks ago, she said, and they spoke about snowmobiling.

“Obviously my brother crossed over a line, if this is true,” she said. “But also, what can I believe when I read it? I’m not going to judge or make any assessments until I talk to him.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle said there is a limit to the protections offered by the First Amendment.

“Free speech is the cornerstone of our democratic process, and we are a country of vigorous debate,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg. “However, threats of violence have no place in that debate. The threats here crossed the line, and violate the law.”

Associated Press contributed to this report.