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Man gets prison in Amtrak threats

(The following story by Ed Treleven appeared on the Wisconsin State Journal website on November 3.)

MADISON, Wisc. -- Five bomb threats against an Amtrak train that crossed Wisconsin last summer will cost an Alaska fish processor nearly four years in prison, a federal judge said Tuesday.

Michael Conwill, 35, said in August that he made the threats because he was angry at being served food that contained hot peppers earlier in his journey from Seattle. He said they caused an allergic reaction that caused him to be hospitalized briefly in Minot, N.D.

"I apologize for the actions that I did and I'm sorry," Conwill told U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb on Tuesday, when asked if he had any statement to make. Crabb then sentenced Conwill to three years and 10 months in prison for what she called a "stupid, stupid decision."

Crabb also ordered Conwill to repay Amtrak $28,552 for costs it incurred as a result of his threats.

The prison sentence was at the upper end of a 37- to 46- month range that federal sentencing guidelines allowed after other factors were considered, such as acceptance of responsibility on Conwill's part, causing a substantial transportation disruption and making more than two threats.

Conwill, of Anchorage, Alaska, was arrested in Chicago for making five calls from his cell phone from aboard an Amtrak train as it rolled through Sauk and Juneau counties on July 6. Because of the threats, the train was stopped in Portage and passengers were taken to a school for several hours while the train was searched. No bombs were found.

Conwillwas arrested when the train arrived in Chicago after the FBI traced the calls to police dispatchers to his cell phone.

Shortly after Conwill was charged, he told Crabb that he intended to plead guilty to making the threats.

After reviewing a pre- sentence report, Crabb said she understood more about Conwill's life, including a troubled background and medical history she did not detail publicly.

"But it does not excuse you for what you did," Crabb said. "You're 35. You must take responsibility for your actions."

Crabb ordered that Conwill receive a mental health evaluation while in prison and that he participate in outpatient mental health counseling while serving a three-year period of supervised release after his prison sentence.

Conwill's attorney, Joseph Sommers, told Crabb he understood why such threats receive such serious attention after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but asked that Conwill receive a sentence at the lower end of the guidelines.

"It's a heck of a lot to pay for a crime that was only a threat," he said.

Sommers said afterward that he had no complaints about the sentence.

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

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