TOPEKA, Kan. — A federal court jury has convicted a Kansas man who insisted his death threat against U.S. Representative Jake LaTurner was a message from God, amid what authorities have said is a sharp rise in death tolls. threats against members of Congress and their families
Jurors found Chase Neill, 32, of Lawrence, guilty of a single count of threatening a U.S. government official. The presiding judge instructed jurors that to find Neill guilty, they had to to conclude that a reasonable person would discover that he had made a genuine threat and intended to intimidate LaTurner or interfere with his work as a Republican congressman representing eastern Kansas.
Neill acted as his own attorney and questioned LaTurner on the witness stand Wednesday. Neill testified Thursday that he was a messenger from God and delivered a message from God threatening LaTurner for ignoring concerns about witchcraft, wizards, aliens and a war for people’s souls.
Federal prosecutors said Neill became obsessed with LaTurner before leaving a voicemail after-hours June 5 at the congressman’s office in Topeka that included: “I’ll kill you.” LaTurner testified that he was concerned for the safety of his family and staff and tightened security at his home and at the Topeka office.
“You cannot cover up with religious beliefs and justify such a threat,” US Attorney Stephen Hunting said in his closing remarks. “There’s a line you can’t cross.”
Neill sat quietly as US District Judge Holly Teeter read the jury’s verdict, which came after about two hours of deliberation. She politely declined a jury poll and, when asked if she had more on the case to discuss, she calmly said, “No, her honor.”
When a bailiff handcuffed him, his mother, Pamela Neill, who had watched the three-day trial, told him: “I love you.”
Teeter scheduled Neill’s sentencing for April 11. He could face 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The judge made Neill give his testimony Thursday as a witness-stand account because he was representing himself. Neill interrupted his comments to make sure the documents were projected on four giant screens on a wall behind him and consult with the judge and prosecutors about what evidence would be allowed. Prosecutors did not question him.
Neill admitted in court that he left the June 5 voicemail and others with more death threats the next day. But he said he was conveying a message from God that LaTurner and other officials faced death by an act of God, such as a tornado or hurricane, for attacking God’s creation.
“This is not me saying, ‘I’m going to go after you with a knife,’ or something like that,” Neill said in closing remarks.
His mother, fighting back tears, told reporters as they left the courtroom: “He never raised a hand on anybody.”
Threats against members of Congress have increased since the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the United States Capitol. In October, an intruder severely beat the husband of former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a hammer at her San Francisco home.
Members of local school boards and poll workers across the country have also been harassed and threatened. Police in Albuquerque, New Mexico, this week arrested an unsuccessful Republican candidate for the legislature in a series of shootings at the homes or offices of Democratic elected officials.
Hunting told the jury that it was reasonable for LaTurner and his staff to take Neill’s words seriously as threats.
LaTurner said in a statement after the verdict: “Violence and threats of violence have no place in our society.”
Neill said his concerns about a war for souls were sparked by a May 13 story on the Kansas Reflector news site about a legislative debate in which a western Kansas lawmaker urged his colleagues to override the veto of the Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly to a measure that would have restricted public access. The power of health officials in post-Covid-19 pandemic epidemics.
Republican State Representative Tatum Lee was quoted as saying: “The war is real for all of you. We are fighting for the soul of our nation.”
Neill told jurors that he values his soul and that God asked him to act when he “heard the trumpet sound.”
He also showed jurors a LinkedIn page for himself, saying he dealt with “matters involving more than 400 million lives lost to high witchcraft.”
Neill testified that in 2018, “God came to me very directly,” without elaborating. A US trial judge said in an August order refusing to release Neill from custody that Neill had suffered a head injury four or five years ago “characterized as a fractured head.”
But the trial judge concluded last month that Neill was able to follow what happens in court and help his lawyers, making him mentally competent to stand trial. She agreed to her request to act as her own attorney, effective Wednesday.
“I’m really trying to explain how I interact with God, and it’s a difficult explanation,” Neill told jurors during his testimony Thursday. “I apologize.”