A convicted arsonist was shackled and heavily guarded in court Friday after threatening to grab a gun and shoot the judge, his attorney and "anybody with a badge" at his sentencing.
Richard Joseph Hammer is facing an extensive prison term, potentially for the rest of his life, and has told corrections officers in the Benton County jail that he won't do it.
"You better shoot me in the head or they need to euthanize me, I'm not spending the rest of my life in prison," Hammer told Officer Terry Blumenthal on Sept. 23, according to a sheriff's office report.
Hammer, 51, was led into Benton County Superior Court on Friday with handcuffs attached to a chain around his waist and restraints around his ankles. He was surrounded in the courtroom by four jail officers.
Defense attorney Gary Metro asked the judge to remove his client's shackles, saying they aren't necessary. "I don't believe he poses a threat to anybody in this courtroom today," Metro said, adding that Hammer has been "under a lot of stress."
Judge Craig Matheson said he understood that the defendant has been under "unusual pressure" throughout the case and will continue to be once Hammer is sent to prison, but decided the shackles were warranted because of the "potential for a safety issue."
"We don't have a jury here. I'm not going to be influenced by the shackles one way or another," said Matheson, noting that he would look at the facts of the case.
However, Hammer's sentencing hearing ended up being delayed to early November because of questions about a potential 1984 conviction in Orange County, Calif., for kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon and attempted robbery.
Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence under Washington's three-strikes law, but need to prove the California case qualifies as a strike. Hammer also was convicted in Benton County in 1993 for first-degree robbery, which is a strike.
A jury convicted Hammer in May of first-degree arson in a February 2009 apartment fire.
Hammer set the fire because he was mad at his girlfriend, who lived in one of the units at the Kamiakin Apartments in Kennewick.
Fire crews responded to the apartments to find three units already engulfed. Two of the units were occupied but people got out safely.
The fire spread rapidly and ultimately destroyed 12 units.
Witnesses reportedly saw Hammer leaving the apartment. He later returned to the scene while police and firefighters still were at the complex.
Hammer's sentencing has been delayed a few times while attorneys look into his criminal history.
After meeting with his attorney Sept. 23, Hammer left the jail's multipurpose room and approached Blumenthal, saying that Metro had just told him he was going to get life behind bars.
"I'm not going to spend the rest of my life in prison. When I get to court on the 15th, I'm going to grab the first gun I see. I'm going to shoot the judge, my ex-wife, my attorney and then I'll shoot every (expletive) court officer I see," Hammer said, according to Blumenthal's report.
Hammer allegedly named two corrections officers who work in the courts and said, "they're dead."
"If I make it out of the courtroom alive, they'll have to restrain me and carry back to the jail," the report said of Hammer's alleged statements. "I'll swing at anybody with a badge, and they'll have to put me in that chair down in holding."
Hammer then reportedly returned to his cell and closed the door.
Blumenthal noted that Hammer was "very angry and upset but was not aggressive towards me."
When he locked down the pod for the night about 45 minutes later, Blumenthal said he checked on Hammer and relayed that he was sorry he had received bad news. That's when Hammer allegedly made comments about shooting him in the head because he's not going to prison.
Friday, Hammer just sat at the defense table with his head lowered through most of the 45-minute hearing.