SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court has overturned an inmate's conviction for writing a crude, rambling letter endorsing President Bush's death at the hands of terrorists — two weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The letter from Oregon State Penitentiary prisoner Jonathan J. Lincoln, who was charged with threatening the president and given an 18-month sentence last year, read, in part: "You will die too George W Bush real Soon they Promised That you would Long Live Bin Laden."
Corrections officials intercepted the letter; Lincoln had been serving a 46-month sentence for robbery.
A unanimous three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the letter was protected under the First Amendment, calling it "Lincoln's crude and offensive method of stating a political opposition to the president." The court noted in its April 8 ruling USA v. Lincoln that "such political hyperbole does not constitute a 'threat.'"
The decision reversed a ruling by U.S. District Judge James A. Redden, who tried the case without a jury. Redden ruled the letter constituted a "true threat" when combined with statements Lincoln made six months earlier to a Secret Service agent that he wanted to assassinate the president.
Lincoln's attorney, Michael Levine, said his client was mentally disabled. He was released from prison last month and lives in a Portland, Ore., halfway house.
Frank Noonan, the Justice Department attorney who prosecuted Lincoln, did not immediately return calls for comment.