TEXARKANA Texas (Reuters) - A Texas actress was sentenced to 18 years in a federal prison on Wednesday on a biological weapons charge for mailing letters containing the toxic agent ricin to President Barack Obama, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a gun control advocate.
Shannon Guess Richardson, 36, whose career included minor television roles in shows such as “The Walking Dead,” also will be subject to five years of supervised release and restitution of $367,000.
Richardson, shackled and dressed in the brown uniform of an inmate, apologized in a federal court in Texarkana, Texas, to Obama, Bloomberg and Mark Glaze, the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group founded by Bloomberg that lobbies for stricter gun laws.
“I never intended to hurt anyone,” she said.
A lawyer for Richardson and U.S. prosecutors reached a plea deal in December for the 18-year sentence. Richardson, who could have faced life in prison, said she took the deal because she did not want to be “listed as a terrorist.”
“I wouldn’t go down that road,” she said in court.
Richardson tried to blame her husband for the letters that were sent in May of last year, according to prosecutors.
The letters read, in part: “You will have to kill me and my family before you get my guns. Anyone wants to come to my house will get shot in the face,” according to court documents.
In a court document signed by Richardson, she outlined how she extracted the toxin with materials she bought with her husband’s credit card. Richardson was arrested in June 2013 and a federal grand jury accused her in a three-count indictment of mailing the letters to Obama, Bloomberg and Glaze.
Ricin, a highly toxic substance, is found naturally in castor beans, but it takes a deliberate act to manufacture it and use it to poison people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Exposure to even a small amount of ricin can cause death and no known antidote exists.
One mail clerk suffered minor injuries from the letters Richardson sent.
“Today’s sentencing brings an appropriate and just end to what is surely one of our most unusual, even bizarre cases,” U.S. Attorney John Malcolm Bales said.
Reporting by Lisa Bose McDermott; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Bill Trott and Eric Beech