SoCal Man Guilty of Threatening Obama

Explosive YouTube video, .50 caliber rifle shown to judge

A federal judge found a La Mesa man guilty Tuesday of making Internet threats against Barack Obama during the presidential campaign.

Walter Edward Bagdasarian, 47, 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.

Judge Marilyn Huff ruled that two World Wide Web postings on Oct. 22, 2008, could reasonably be taken as serious threats and were intended as such despite Bagdasarian's later explanation that he was drunk on wine at the time they were written.

Bagdasarian had admitted writing the postings on a Yahoo! message board, saying  "f---the n-----, he will have a 50 cal in the head soon," and "shoot the n--."

Several hours after the second posting, he went online to apologize.

Bagdasarian wept briefly as the judge's findings were announced and hugged his tearful wife, Regina, as he left the courtroom with other family members and friends.

Neither he nor his attorney, Ezekiel Cortez, would comment.

Bagdasarian remains free on $100,000 bond pending an Oct. 26 sentencing date on two counts of threatening to harm a major presidential candidate. Each count carries a maximum sentence of five years and a $1,000 fine.

The nonjury bench trial lasted an hour and 20 minutes, beginning with prosecutor William Cole displaying the defendant's .50 caliber muzzle-loading rifle and an explosive YouTube video segment found on the defendant's computer hard drive. The video, which was shown in court Tuesday, depicted a junk car being blown up by a.50 caliber round fired in an unidentified rural setting.

Cortez had objected to the video being shown but was overruled.

"We don't even know if [the junk car] was rigged to blow up," Cortez said in closing remarks.

The defense attorney said the rifle was "a collector's item" incapable of the firepower of the weapon used in the YouTube video.

The video was a link in an e-mail dated Nov. 4, 2008 (Election Day), in which prosecutors quote Bagdasarian as saying "And so it begins ... Pistol ... plink plink plink. Now when you use a 50 cal on a n----- car you get this."

Another e-mail with the same date says, "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 to the company's model 82a1 semi-automatic .50 caliber rifle.

After Cole showed a picture of the rifle, Cortez called the display "almost pornographic."

The prosecution's intended effect, Cortez said, was "to raise emotional issues, to try to influence the trier of fact [Judge Huff] ... Oooh, look at this military redneck, this dangerous racist we have here."

Cortez insisted Bagdasarian's messages -- while "ugly racial statements" -- did not amount to a "specific intent" to carry out a "true threat." He also said Bagdasarian's wife "as a Democrat campaigned for Barack Obama" -- drawing an objection on grounds of irrelevancy from prosecutor Cole.

The .50 caliber rifle shown in evidence was among six firearms found in a Secret Service search of Bagdasarian's home, along with 500 rounds of ammunition.

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