Obama Threat Suspect Faces Bench Trial

Defense: Message board statements not 'serious'; wine involved

New details have come to light in the government's case against an East County man charged with making Internet threats on the life of Barack Obama during last year's presidential campaign.

Walter Edward Bagdasarian, 47, faces up to five years in prison if found guilty by a federal judge following a nonjury "bench" trial that begins in San Diego on Tuesday.

Bagdasarian was indicted in January after Secret Service agents traced the alleged threats -- filled with racial invectives and profanity -- to his wife's computer and later found a small arsenal of weapons in the couple's La Mesa home.

On Friday, prosecutors filed a trial memorandum quoting from an e-mail on the hard drive of the Bagdasarians' home computer, dated Nov. 4, 2008 -- election day.

The e-mail was titled "Re: And so it begins" and also says, "Pistol ... plink plink plink. Now when you use a 50 cal on a n----- car, you get this." Linked to the e-mail, according to the trial memorandum, was a YouTube video depicting a vehicle exploding after being hit by a round from a .50 caliber firearm.

Bagdasarian previously had admitted posting messages on a Yahoo Finance message board saying "f--- the n-----, he will have a 50 cal in the head soon ... shoot the n--," according to Secret Service agents.

A .50 caliber rifle was among the six firearms that agents found in Bagdasarian's home.

The government quotes another e-mail allegedly found on Bagdasarian's hard drive, under the same subject title, as saying: "Pistol??? Dude, Josh needs to get us these, just shoot the n-----'s car and POOF!"

That e-mail links to the Barrett Rifles Web site, referring specifically to the Barrett 82a1 semi-automatic .50 caliber rifle.

Neither he nor his attorney, Ezekiel Cortez, offered comments after a Monday motions hearing before U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff, who will hear the case after Bagdasarian -- with the consent of prosecutors -- waived his right to a jury trial.

Ezekiel's trial memorandum stated that Bagdasarian's wife and a close family friend will be called as witnesses to testify "to the amount of wine consumed by him during the evening and early morning when he is alleged to have committed the offenses alleged against him."

The defense memorandum argues that Bagdasarian was not making a "serious" statement and had no "specific intent" that met the legal standard of "true threat."

Legal observers not connected to the case said that it presents intriguing challenges for both sides and the judge herself.

"What we may have here are general statements of hatred, general statements of trying to incite others to do something," said San Diego trial attorney Marc Carlos. "But as far as this individual goes, the government needs to prove this individual did intend -- willingly and knowingly -- to threaten to kill Mr. Obama."

Bagdasarian, said David Bartick, another local trial lawyer, "may have been speculating on what may happen. But as for as the defendant himself indicating, 'I am going to commit this offense, commit this horrendous crime,' the defense is going to indicate there is no overt act on his part with regard to preparation."

Bagdasarian, whose whereabouts were electronically monitored for a while, is free on $100,000 bond.

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