By Brendan O’Brien
(Reuters) – A federal judge sentenced a West Virginia man to three years in prison for sending intimidating emails to Anthony Fauci, including threats to kill the United States’ top infectious disease official over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. District Judge Paula Xinis in Greenbelt, Maryland, on Thursday sentenced Thomas Connally Jr., 56, of Snowshoe, West Virginia, to 37 months in federal prison and another three years of supervised release after he pleaded guilty in May to a federal charge of making threats against a federal official.
In one email, Connally threatened that Fauci and his family would be “dragged into the street, beaten to death, and set on fire,” prosecutors said.
In a plea bargain, Connally admitted he sent threatening emails to Fauci, hoping to intimidate and interfere with his official duties as the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ director and to retaliate against him for his handling of the pandemic, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland said in a statement.
The response to the pandemic by federal and state officials has been highly contentious across the United States, re-igniting a long-standing U.S. battle over individual rights, the constitutional remit of states to police citizens, public health and public activities, such as education or retail businesses.
Many public officials have been heavily criticized and have been the targets of protests and threats for masking and vaccine mandates around the country, where more than 1 million people have died due to the virus.
Connally, who accused Fauci of “fear mongering,” was under stress in connection with his mother’s isolation in a nursing home during the pandemic, a public defender wrote in a letter to the court on Wednesday.
Investigators wrote in court documents that Connally described himself on his resume as an information architect, editor and technical writer.
The man admitted to investigators that he had sent a series of threatening emails to Fauci and other state and federal health officials from an anonymous, encrypted email account from December 2020 to July 2021.
Connally also admitted sending threatening messages to health officials in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, Francis Collins, the then-director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health; and four individuals working for a religious institution in New Jersey, prosecutors said.
(This story removes extra word in first paragraph)
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; editing by Jonathan Oatis)