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Man charged with threatening to kill Alaska’s senators pleads not guilty

KUAC screenshot
The U.S. District Court indicted Jay Allen Johnson one week ago on six counts related to threats he left on the voicemail accounts of Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan earlier this year.

Defense attorney seeks plea deal with federal prosecutor

A Delta Junction man has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of threatening to kill Alaska’s two U.S. senators.

Jay Allen Johnson’s lawyer entered his client’s not-guilty plea during Monday’s telephonic arraignment. And attorney Jason Weiner also said he’s also asked the federal prosecutor to consider a plea deal.

Weiner says prosecutor Ryan Tansey told him he couldn’t offer a deal right now, because he needs to do some further consultation. Weiner told Johnson that he wants to see what kind of deal the prosecution may come up with over the next 45 days, while both sides prepare their cases for trial.

Weiner didn’t return phone calls and emails Monday asking for further comment.

Also during Monday’s arraignment, U.S. Magistrate Judge Scott Oravec read aloud six counts against Johnson that a grand jury handed down last week. They include two counts of threatening to assault and murder a federal official – in this case, Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan – with intent to intimidate or impede the senators from carrying out their official duties and to retaliate against them for doing those duties.

Johnson also is accused of threatening to destroy or damage property owned by Murkowski, and using a telephone to make those threats.

Tansey, the prosecutor, told the court that Johnson could if convicted be sentenced to a total of up to 50 years in prison and up to $1.5 million in fines.

He’d also have to forfeit seven firearms that FBI agents confiscated last month during a raid on his home in Delta Junction. The guns were seized because Johnson is a felon who was convicted five years ago of drunken-driving after more than two previous DUI convictions, and he wasn’t allowed to own or have access to guns.

Oravec told Johnson that he’ll continue to be held at Fairbanks Correctional Center, where he’s been jailed since FBI agents arrested him on Oct. 4 after investigators determined he’d left a total of 17 threatening messages on the two senators’ voicemail accounts.

The judge also told Johnson that barring a plea deal, the case will go to trial, though it’s not yet been scheduled. When and if it is, he said a new judge will be presiding – that’s Ralph Beistline, a senior U.S. District Judge for Alaska.