18 years for actress who sent poison to president

Shannon Guess Richardson is escorted out of the federal courthouse in Texarkana, Texas. Picture: AP
Shannon Guess Richardson is escorted out of the federal courthouse in Texarkana, Texas. Picture: AP
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AN ACTRESS who sent ricin-laced letters to president Barack Obama and the New York City mayor, and then tried to blame the crime on her soon-to-be ex-husband has been sentenced to 18 years in prison.

A federal judge gave Shannon Guess Richardson, 36, the maximum sentence under her plea deal on a federal charge of possessing and producing a biological toxin. Richardson was also ordered to pay restitution of about $367,000 (£215,000). She had pleaded guilty to the charge in December.

“I never intended for anybody to be hurt,” she told the court, adding later, “I’m not a bad person; I don’t have it in me to hurt anyone.”

Richardson said she thought security measures would prevent anyone from opening the letters addressed to Mr Obama and the now-former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Prosecutors said Richardson mailed three letters, then went to police and claimed that her estranged husband had done it. She was arrested last June after authorities said she tried to implicate her husband, who had filed for divorce.

Richardson acknowledged in a signed plea agreement that she ordered castor beans online and learned how to process them into a substance used to make ricin. She obtained an 
email address, a PayPal shopping account and a post office box in her husband’s name without his knowledge, according to the document.

On the morning of 20 May, 2013, she said she waited for her husband, Nathan Richardson, to go to work.

“After he left the house, I printed the mailing labels for President Barack Obama, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and Mark Glaze with The Raben Group,” she said in the document. At the time, Mr Glaze was director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Mr Bloomberg’s group advocating for tougher gun control.

The letter to Mr Obama read: “What’s in this letter is nothing compared to what I’ve got in store for you Mr President,” according to the document. “You will have to kill me and my family before you get my guns. Anyone wants to come to my house will get shot in the face.”

After posting the letters, she admitted to trying to blame her husband and lying to authorities.

Richardson performed minor roles in the television series The Walking Dead and the movie The Blind Side. She also is the mother of six children – including one born prematurely while she was in custody.

In asking the judge for leniency on Wednesday, Richardson apologised and asked for “mercy and compassion,” saying that she’d already been “punished dearly” by being away from her six children, who she described as “her world”.

“The sentiments expressed in those letters were not mine,” Richardson said.

Richardson’s attorney, Tonda Curry, said her client was “exuding desperation to get out of the situation she was in”.