DENVER (AP) — A man accused of threatening a Colorado lawmaker pushing for stricter gun control measures plans to challenge the charges filed against him.
Franklin Sain's lawyer told a judge Friday that Sain admits calling and sending emails laced with profanities and racial slurs to state Rep. Rhonda Fields. Lawyer Siddhartha Rathod said that while the messages were offensive, they were not threatening. They were constitutionally protected political speech, he said.
Rathod also said Sain, 42, was not responsible for a letter sent to Fields that said "There Will Be Blood!" and listed Fields and her daughter.
He said he would file a motion challenging the two charges filed against Sain — attempting to influence a public official, a felony, and harassment based on ethnicity, a misdemeanor.
Fields is a Democrat who represents Aurora, where a gunman killed 12 people in a movie theater in suburban Denver. She is black. Sain, a technology executive who was suspended after his arrest, is white.
"The question before this court is whether these emails were criminal, and they're not as they are protected by the First Amendment," Rathod said.
Sain nodded and said "thank you" as the judge scheduled a preliminary hearing for March 27. He declined to comment after his first court appearance in the case.
In one message, police say Sain told Fields he hoped someone would "Gifords" her, an apparent reference to the 2011 shooting and wounding of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. A police affidavit said Sain apologized for his comments.
Colorado is not the only state where lawmakers are fielding angry — and sometimes threatening — messages as a result of heated debates over gun restrictions. Earlier this week, an Oregon state senator said she cancelled a town hall meeting about gun control because she had received hostile and threatening emails. A California man suspected of threatening a state senator over a bill limiting the reloading of assault weapons was arrested. And a Minnesota lawmaker sponsoring an assault weapons ban said she has been receiving threatening messages.
If found guilty, Sain could face up to six years in prison.