Court to Hear Appeal in Anthrax Hoax Case

Posted March 19, 2003 at 6:10pm

The D.C. Court of Appeals has agreed to hear the case of the Capitol Police officer who was convicted of making false statements in connection with an anthrax hoax.

Last month U.S. District Court Thomas Penfield Jackson sentenced James Pickett to two years’ probation and 200 hours of community service after a jury convicted the 14-year veteran for the more serious of the two charges he faced. His sentence was suspended pending appeal.

In November 2001, shortly after a letter containing anthrax was sent to the Hill, Pickett left a note and the contents of an Equal sweetener packet at his post in the Cannon House Office Building tunnel. The note read: “Please inhale. Yes this could be? Call your doctor for flu symptoms. This is a Capitol Police training exercize [sic]! I hope you pass!”

Pickett filed his appeal “in forma pauperis,” indicating that he can no longer afford representation. His lawyer for the district court trial, Eli Gottesdiener, agreed to be assigned as his court-appointed attorney.

The appeals court laid out a briefing schedule after taking the case last week. Pickett’s brief will be due in May, with the government’s response and the defendant’s rebuttal to follow in June.

At sentencing, the defense told the judge that Police Chief Terrance Gainer had indicated Pickett would be terminated regardless of the appeal. Such action has yet to occur, according to Gottesdiener.

“The recommendation of the internal affairs division is that he be terminated,” Gottesdiener said Wednesday. The police department has said Pickett will go before a disciplinary review board.

“We’re going to be fighting both of those procedural steps as much as we can,” Gottesdiener said.

As for the appeal, the defense believes that the instructions to the jury were incorrect. Gottesdiener asserted after the trial that the prosecution would have had to prove that Pickett had “an intent to disrupt” the business of the Capitol Police in order to convict him.

Pickett can also appeal on another jury instruction — that the false statement had to be within the jurisdiction of the federal government — which could grant him an acquittal by the appeals court. When Congress revised the statute governing false statements in 1996, it circumscribed its application in the legislative branch to include only two areas: administrative matters and investigation or review. Gottesdiener maintains that neither is applicable in this case.