Public Safety

Ottumwa man sentenced to 7 years for threatening federal judge

Already serving prison terms for robbery, threatening former president

(Dreamstime/TNS)

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(Dreamstime/TNS) gavel
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CEDAR RAPIDS — An Ottumwa man, who a prosecutor called a “danger to the community,” was sentenced Thursday to seven years in prison for threatening to kill a federal judge, a sentence that will be added to the 16 years he already is serving for robbery and threatening to kill former President Barack Obama.

Matthew J. Howard, 31, pleaded guilty last August to making threats against a federal judge and mailing threatening communications.

Howard, during that hearing, admitted to threatening to kill, assault or kidnap U.S. District Senior Judge Linda Reade and mailing a threatening letter to her.

Court documents show Howard told police he’d threatened to kill Reade because she had sentenced two of his friends to life in prison. In the letter, he told Reade he was going to kill her and several other judges at the courthouse when he was released from prison. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Zaehringer of the Southern District of Iowa, in arguing for the top of the sentencing guideline range — eight years — said Howard was a career offender with a history of violence and a pattern of “impulsive” behavior.

He gets angry and writes threatening letters, even while in prison, she added. 

Zaehringer, in a sentencing document, said in November 2017 that Howard sent a letter threatening to kill Reade and then last January sent another letter to a federal judge and his family. He then sent a third letter to 8th Judicial District Judge Lucy Gamon and threatened her life and the lives of two detectives and a prosecutor.

The letters were identical to those he sent in 2012 when he threatened to kill Obama and kidnap his children, she said.

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“This pattern of behavior shows that the defendant will not follow the law and will continue to commit crimes similar in nature, causing others to fear for their lives,” Zaehringer said in the sentencing memo.  

Jill Johnston, Howard’s lawyer, in arguing for less prison time, said Howard, who was physically and sexually abused as a child, had a long history of mental illness and was in need of “intense psychotherapy.”

She asked the judge to consider that, according to medical records, Howard was having breakdowns and not consistently taking his medication when he wrote the letters to Reade.

U.S. District Judge John Jarvey, during sentencing, said the offenses were serious ones with multiple victims. And while “clearly” mental illness has driven Howard’s behavior to some extent, his previous convictions haven’t deterred him, he said.

Howard has a lengthy criminal history, starting as a teen and continuing while he was in prison. His previous convictions include harassment, burglary, two assaults, robbery, thefts and threatening a president.

Jarvey sentenced Howard to 90 months and said the sentence would run consecutively to his previous state conviction — 13 years for a Wapello County robbery — and three years in federal prison for threats against Obama and Reade in 2013.

Howard will continue serving his state prison sentence before starting to serve his two federal terms.

* Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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