A convicted arsonist told Benton County Superior Court Judge Craig Matheson he had no plans to follow through on threats he had made about shooting court staff and jail officers.
After Richard Joseph Hammer found out he could be sentenced to life behind bars under the state's three-strikes law following his arson conviction, he told Benton County corrections officers he would grab a gun and shoot the judge, his attorney and "anybody with a badge" at his sentencing.
"I want to apologize to the court," Hammer said Friday. "I never had any intent to do anything. All I was doing was venting my frustration."
He said at the time he made the threat he was dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and panic attacks. Hammer, 51, said he had started medication days before he made the threats but has had his medication adjusted since then.
Matheson said he would not take the threats into consideration in sentencing because no charges were filed against Hammer for the comments.
However, Hammer's sentencing was postponed until Jan. 12 to give the prosecutor's office more time to look into his criminal history to determine if past convictions would be considered strikes under the state's three-strike law.
Matheson agreed to the delay because of the severity of the potential life sentence. "This isn't an everyday sentence," he said.
That, combined with the complexity of Hammer's multijurisdiction criminal history that stretches over many years, overcomes the requirement for a speedy sentence, Matheson said.
"I'm going to take the time necessary to get it right," he said.
Hammer' sentencing has been delayed several times while attorneys look into his criminal history.
A jury convicted Hammer in May of first-degree arson for a February 2009 apartment fire that he set because he was mad at his girlfriend, who lived in one of the units at the Kamiakin Apartments in Kennewick. The fire spread rapidly and destroyed 12 units, but no one was injured.
Hammer also was convicted in Benton County in 1993 for first-degree robbery, which is considered a strike under the three-strikes law.
Prosecutors had asked Matheson for more time to look into a potential 1984 conviction Hammer had in Orange County, Calif., for kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon and attempted robbery. It could count as a second strike under the law.
Deputy Prosecutor Megan Whitmire said Hammer's attorney, Gary Metro, was likely correct that the kidnapping and attempted robbery charges would not count as strikes.
But Hammer also has a 2000 conviction for the manufacture of controlled substances and bomb threats and may have an assault charge in Spokane, Whitmire said. Either could count as a strike, she said.