Susanville man faces terrorist threat charges
Susanville resident Michael Karl McNeil, 34, a former firefighter with the United States Forest Service, faces 36 felony charges in Los Angeles Superior Court of using explosives, arson and making terrorist threats. The charges were filed by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office on Thursday, Aug. 7. His bail has been set at $2.87 million.
Several sources close to the case say they expect additional charges may be filed against McNeil in the future.
Apparently McNeil, embroiled in a bitter divorce battle in Lassen Superior Court, tried to discredit his wife, a Kazakhstan national (part of the former Soviet Union), by sending threatening e-mails that appeared to come from her computer to national and local elected officials.
The threatened officials include Lassen County Superior Court Judge Stephen Bradbury, Lassen County Superior Court Judge Donald Sokol, Lassen County District Attorney Robert Burns, Lassen County Public Defender David Marcus, Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca, United States Senator Barbara Boxer, United States Congresswoman Mary Bono, Anne Bryant, Rob Jordan and a Los Angeles peace officer.
According to the documents filed in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, McNeil delivered 34 terrorist threats in just 26 days between Sunday, July 6 and Thursday, July 31.
McNeil also faces felony charges of using a destructive device and explosive to destroy property and arson.
Sources close to the investigation say McNeil soon may face more criminal charges.
Tom Downing, a Susanville Police Department captain, said the SPD began the investigation, but turned it over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
“We’re aware of the investigation, and they keep us up to date on the process,” Downing said.
While most of the victims are Lassen County residents, Downing said it is believed the alleged crimes were committed at McNeil’s father’s house in Southern California, and that’s why the investigation moved out of Susanville.
Downing declined to discuss the exact nature of the terrorist threats or the facts of the case.
“They were pretty specific threats toward the individuals,” Downing said. “They were not ambiguous threats.”
A representative for Bradbury and Sokol said the two Lassen County judges would not comment on an ongoing case.
Burns also declined to discuss the details of the case, but he did make a statement.
“If and when Mr. McNeil (who currently has two criminal matters pending in Lassen County) comes back to the Lassen County courts, I expect to withdraw and ask the Attorney General’s Office to handle the matters,” Burns said. “In essence, Mr. McNeil threatened my life.”
Marcus, who had represented McNeil, was a little more candid.
“I can talk about the case,” Marcus said. “I no longer represent Mr. McNeil, because I now have a conflict.”
According to Marcus, McNeil is “a pretty delusional individual” who was “just trying to make his ex-wife look bad. He sent out e-mails in her name. I understand he bought some program that would make it appear the e-mails were coming from his ex-wife’s computer address.”
Marcus said he received e-mails from McNeil “almost daily” but he wasn’t too concerned because “some of them were so absurd.”
The public defender said McNeil “threatened to blow us all up with dirty bombs. Could he carry that out? I don’t know that he really had that capability. Was I looking over my shoulder much? No, but then again, you couldn’t ignore them either.”
On Dec. 26, 1997, McNeil was charged in Los Angeles County with making a terrorist threat. He pleaded no contest in that case and was sentenced to 170 days in the Los Angeles County Jail.
McNeil is charged with 34 felony violations of California Penal Code Section 422, commonly referred to as terrorist threats.
That section reads applies anyone who “willfully threatens to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person,” regardless of how the threat is transmitted and even if “there is no intent of actually carrying it out.”
But the threat must be “so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate, and specific as to convey to the person threatened, a gravity of purpose and an immediate prospect of execution of the threat, and thereby causes that person reasonably to be in sustained fear for his or her own safety or for his or her immediate family's safety.”
McNeil is also charged with violating California Penal Code Section 12303.3 which applies to “Every person who possesses, explodes, ignites, or attempts to explode or ignite any destructive device or any explosive with intent to injure, intimidate, or terrify any person, or with intent to wrongfully injure or destroy any property.”
McNeil is charged with violating California Penal Code Section 451 (d), arson. That section applies to a person who “willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned or who aids, counsels, or procures the burning of, any structure, forest land, or property.
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