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Grand jury to consider case of man who threatened Alaska’s senators

Loren Holmes/Anchorage Daily News
Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski received a total of 17 threatening voicemail messages over the past several months. Federal prosecutors have arrested and charged Jay Allen Johnson, of Delta Junction, with leaving the messages.

Judge finds probable cause that Delta Junction man left menacing telephone messages for Murkowski, Sullivan

A federal magistrate judge ruled Tuesday that there’s enough evidence to send the case of a man charged with threatening to murder Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski to a grand jury.

Judge Scott Oravec of the U.S. District Court for Alaska made the ruling at the end of a preliminary hearing held online and telephonically. He said the prosecution has provided sufficient evidence to establish probable cause that 65-year-old Jay Allen Johnson left threatening messages on Murkowski’s voice-mailbox in recent months.

The prosecution says those messages violated three federal laws: threatening U.S. officials with intent to intimidate them while they were engaged in their official duties; making interstate threats; and making an interstate threat to damage property by fire or explosive. If convicted on the most serious charges, Johnson could be sentenced to up to 10 years in federal prison.

Prosecutor Ryan Tansey called an FBI special agent who investigated the case to testify about one of those messages. Agent Matthew Oudbier played an excerpt of a message left Sept. 29 on Murkowski’s voicemail and confirmed it was Johnson’s voice. The profanity-laced message includes a threat by the caller to hire a hitman from among the “terrorists and assassins” that he said Murkowski was allowing to enter the country.

An affidavit filed by Oudbier states the caller left four threatening messages on Murkowski’s voicemail and 13 threatening messages on Senator Dan Sullivan’s voicemail.

Regarding his finding of probable cause, Oravec said, “The question here is not to sort out the evidence as a fact-finder would at trial, but to determine whether the evidence shows probable cause, so the case can go forward.”

The judge said the case will go to the next available grand jury. A U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesperson says the case is likely to be brought to a grand jury next month.

Oravec said it’s too early for Johnson to enter a plea.

Johnson asked the judge Tuesday if he could make a “apology statement,” but defense attorney Gary Colbath cut him off in mid-sentence. He made similar request during an Oct. 8 detention hearing.

Johnson has been held at Fairbanks Correctional Center since he was arrested Oct. 4 in Fairbanks. The next day, FBI agents raided his home in Delta Junction and confiscated seven firearms as evidence.