A Tomah man who wrote on his Facebook page and told a security guard that he planned to kill President Barack Obama when the president was in La Crosse last summer was convicted Tuesday of two counts of making threats against Obama.
A jury of seven men and five women deliberated for about 4½ hours Tuesday before finding Dutcher, 55, of Tomah, guilty of writing a Facebook comment about assassinating the president on June 30, then telling a La Crosse Public Library security guard on July 1 that he planned to assassinate Obama when he visited La Crosse the next day.
Dutcher did not testify during the trial. Each count carries up to five years in prison when Dutcher is sentenced by U.S. District Judge William Conley on March 15.
According to court documents, Dutcher told the guard, “The usurper is here and if I get a chance, I’ll take him out and I’ll take the shot.” On his Facebook page, he wrote, “That’s it! I will be in La Crosse. Hopefully I will get a clear shot at the pretend president. Killing him is our CONSTITUTIONAL DUTY!”
In closing arguments Tuesday, Dutcher’s lawyer, Stephen Meyer, said the government hadn’t proven that Dutcher made a true threat against Obama, as required by law. Instead, Meyer told the jury, Dutcher made his comments out in the open, making them little more than “careless talk” and “obvious political exaggeration.”
“If it is an actual threat, Brian Dutcher goes dark,” Meyer said. “A true threat is not posting it on Facebook for 114 friends to see.”
Meyer also questioned why the response to the threat was slow, if the library security guard, La Crosse police and the Secret Service considered it to be a true threat.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Pfluger said that the response wasn’t instantaneous because Obama wasn’t scheduled to be in La Crosse until the day after Dutcher uttered the threat at the library.
Police found the Facebook threats, made a day earlier, after Dutcher made the threat to the library guard on July 1.
Pfluger said that while the First Amendment guarantees free speech, Dutcher “crossed the line when he made the threats.” And when asked by police later what he meant by them, Pfluger said, Dutcher reiterated the statements, and said that he meant what he said.
Dutcher never said that he didn’t mean what he said, she added, and never said that he was joking when he made the statements.
Meyer said that police searched Dutcher and his van and found no firearms, only a slingshot.
“Are we dealing with Bart Simpson or are we dealing with a federal case?” Meyer asked.
Under the law, Pfluger said, prosecutors did not have to prove that Dutcher intended to carry out the threats. She added that Dutcher had told police he used the slingshot to hunt small game, and that it could have been used to injure a person as well.