Cheyenne, Wyo. A federal jury on Thursday found a Kansas man not guilty of threatening President Bush in front of two pawn shop employees less than a month after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Dustin Wacker, 26, of Wichita, Kan., faced up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.
The jury of seven men and five women deliberated about a half-hour Wednesday and another five hours Thursday. After the verdict was read, Wacker sat motionless and his stepparents, Clyde and Virginia Wacker, also of Wichita, hugged and sobbed.
"The jury did its job," was all assistant U.S. Atty. Lee Pico said as he left the courtroom. Wacker and his family declined to comment.
"The issue was whether or not statements made as political criticism, directed at a TV set, could be construed as a true threat to the president," defense attorney Tom Jubin said.
He emphasized that Wacker does not even remember making the remarks at United Pawn in Mills, a small town next to Casper, on Oct. 9, 2001.
Even so, Jubin said, "The language of the statements the witnesses said ... they described very clearly what were political statements."
Wacker stopped in Mills while traveling from Washington state, where he had been living, to his parents' home. That night he stayed at his sister's house in Pratt, Kan.
Prosecutors said Wacker violated federal law by pointing at President Bush on a television and telling Sherry Emanuelson and David Wilkinson, "I'd like to blow his head off."
Emanuelson and Wilkinson testified that Wacker made several such remarks they perceived as threatening and that he seemed "nervous" and "angry."
A Secret Service assessment classified Wacker's danger to the president as minimal. Jubin said he did not see those documents until two days into the U.S. District Court trial, which began Monday.
On Tuesday, Emanuelson testified that she overheard Wacker say on the phone: "Don't worry, Mother, it's not like I'll use anthrax. I'll use a pipe bomb or something."
But on Wednesday, Virginia Wacker said that, as a joke, her son often disguised his voice when he called her. She said that was what he did when he was in the pawn shop and called to arrange a wire transfer.