Submitted December 12, 2014.
Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - St. Paul.
For United States of America, Plaintiff - Appellee: Jeffrey S. Paulsen, Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.
Deborah Mae Carlson, Defendant - Appellant, Pro se, Waseca, MN.
For Deborah Mae Carlson, Defendant - Appellant: Daniel L. Gerdts, Law Office of Daniel L. Gerdts, Minneapolis, MN.
Before LOKEN, BRIGHT, and KELLY, Circuit Judges. LOKEN, Circuit Judge, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
KELLY, Circuit Judge.
Deborah Mae Carlson was convicted after a jury trial of nine counts of mailing threatening communications and three counts of mailing extortionate communications under various provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 876. On appeal, Carlson challenges her convictions for the three counts of mailing extortionate communications, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support these counts and that the jury was improperly instructed. Having jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm in part and remand in part.
In March 2010, Carlson began bringing her pets for regular treatment at the Southfork Animal Hospital in Lakeville, Minnesota. Because she had many animals
and because she refused to give them medication herself, she was at the hospital often, sometimes on a daily basis. Around this same time, Dr. Katherine Belisle, a veterinarian at the hospital, began receiving threatening letters detailing how she would be kidnapped, tortured, and raped. The letters were hand-addressed to Dr. Belisle at the hospital, and most were sent anonymously, though some were signed " Jeff." Eight such letters were addressed to Dr. Belisle over a two-month period--one accompanied by a knife left in the hospital's mailbox. Two additional letters were sent to other employees of the hospital, detailing violence that would be committed against both the employees and Dr. Belisle.
During this time, three businesses near the animal hospital received threatening letters that were falsely signed in the name of Dr. Belisle. One letter was mailed to " Target--Store Manager" and demanded that $50,000 be brought to the hospital address or " I will shoot people in your parking lot." A second letter was addressed to " Valley Buick Pontiac GMC Store Manager," and demanded that $25,000 be brought to Dr. Belisle's animal hospital or " I will break windows on your cars." The third letter was addressed to " Scott Lake Veterinary Center," a different animal hospital than the one where Dr. Belisle worked, and demanded that the clinic deliver animal medical supplies to Dr. Belisle, or else she would spread rumors that the clinic overcharged customers.
Carlson was indicted and charged with nine counts of mailing a threatening communication, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 876(c); two counts of mailing a threatening communication with intent to extort, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 876(d); and a single count of mailing a threatening communication with an intent to extort, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 876(b). At her trial, testimony was presented that Carlson had become infatuated with Dr. Belisle and had called the clinic threatening to shoot children at a nearby daycare if Dr. Belisle did not meet her at a gas station. A handwriting expert concluded that it was " highly probable" that Carlson had written the letters. A jury found Carlson guilty on all counts.
Count 10 of the indictment alleged a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 876(b), which applies to:
Whoever, with intent to extort from any person any money or other thing of value, so deposits, or causes to be delivered, as aforesaid, any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of the addressee or of another . . . .
(Emphasis added). This count applied to the letter addressed to " Target--Store Manager," followed by the address of a Target store. The letter stated:
Bring $50,000 to me at [redacted] Kenrick Ave in Lakeville Mn 4-19 by 10:00 am or on 4-20 I will shoot people in your parking lot. Katherine Belisle
Counts 11 and 12 of the indictment each alleged a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 876(d), which applies to:
Whoever, with intent to extort from any person any money or other thing of value, knowingly so deposits or causes to be delivered, as aforesaid, any communication, with or without a name or designating mark subscribed thereto, addressed to any other person and containing any threat to injure the property or reputation of the addressee or of another . . . .
(Emphasis added). Count 11 applied to a letter addressed to " Valley Buick Pontiac GMC Store Manager," followed by the address
for the dealership. The enclosed letter stated:
If you do not bring $25,000 to me at [redacted] Kenrick Ave in Lakeville MN by 10 am on 4-21 that night or the next night I will break windows on your cars.
Count 12 applied to a letter addressed to " Scott Lake Veterinary Center," followed by the Veterinary Center's address. The enclosed letter stated:
I want my animal hospital to get as much business as possible so that I get more money. So I am going to get the word out there that your hospital & others overcharge people and things like that. However, if you bring us animal medical supplies I will leave your place out of it. You could leave it outside our place at night with a note saying where ...