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Dark Web Ricin Case: Judge Rejected Recommended Sentence

Judge Vince Girdhari Chhabria rejected the recommended sentence of 30 months in prison and three years probation of Ryan Kelly Chamberlain (44).

Chamberlain is a former political consultant who pleaded guilty to the possession of a biological toxin and a firearm with the serial number removed. He acquired the poison and the .22 caliber Derringer pistol from Black Market Reloaded (BMR). Chamberlain has been in federal jail since June 2014 when the FBI arrested him. The Bureau had been surveilling him for weeks and tracked the shipment of the poison to the man’s apartment. Eventually, Chamberlain fled, the feds were on his trail for three days and caught him in a park in San Francisco. He had also posted a suicide note online in which he mentioned his depression, family troubles, and a difficult break-up.

Chamberlain told court about his mental state regarding the case:

“I just want to say that I never intended to hurt anybody. The big difference between before and now is that I was undiagnosed. I’d been managing depression for a very long time and just hit rock bottom. It’s diagnosed now. You tend to wear a mask around your friends and family, and no one knew. Now they know, so I have this support group around me. I haven’t been able to talk about this for two years. I love my people and I love my city. There was never an intent to hurt anyone, even people who hurt me. I was heartbroken but I’d never hurt them.”

Federal prosecutors had recommended an additional three years of supervised release (in addition to the 30 months of jail time) with limits to and monitoring of the man’s Internet use and the requirement of the former consultant’s submission to mental health counseling. The government’s probation office recommended 10 years of supervised release with the same strict conditions.

Judge Chhabria strongly disagreed with both probation recommendations, considering Chamberlain’s psychiatric condition:

“From the standpoint of protecting the safety of the public, three years of supervised release is grossly inadequate. Even the recommendation of a 10-year period of supervised release is significantly inadequate, ” Chhabria stated. He also asked federal prosecutors:

“Given the facts of this case, how could you have decided three years was adequate to protect the safety of the public?”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Kearney said the decision was based on the fact that Chamberlain had been a functioning member of society for so long prior to his criminal actions. He made this reply to the federal judge’s question:

“The government doesn’t have a crystal ball. However, we feel that since the defendant has been able to maintain his status as a functioning member of society for so long, with the proper incentives he can get back on his feet.”

Elizabeth Falk, from Chamberlain’s defense, said it is a statistic fact that most probation violations occur within the first three years, if at all. She made these statements:

“It’s molding your behavior, and after three years it’s going to stick. The plea agreement was reached because the government really didn’t have any evidence that Mr. Chamberlain ever intended to harm anyone other than himself. It’s a sad case of someone who was in a dark place and was hoping his death would be more interesting than his life.”

Judge Chhabria countered Falk’s point:

“Mr. Chamberlain ordered abrin on the dark Web, he ordered castor beans, which one can use to make ricin, he ordered a number of bomb components, he ordered a gun with the serial number scratched off. That doesn’t sound like someone who only intended to hurt himself.”

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