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United States v. Mabie

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 7, 2017

United States of America, Plain tiff-Appellee,
William J. Mabie, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued February 24, 2017

         Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 14-CR-30076 - Michael J. Reagan, Chief Judge. No. 15-CR-30158 - Richard Mills, Judge.

          Before Easterbrook, Kanne, and Sykes, Circuit Judges.

          Kanne, Circuit Judge.

         This consolidated appeal involves two criminal cases from the Southern District of Illinois. In the first case-which we call the "threat case, ” numbered 15-1899 on appeal-William Mabie was convicted of sending threatening letters through the mail. In the second case- which we call the "assault case, ” numbered 16-2432 on appeal-Mabie was convicted of assaulting a deputy United States marshal. Mabie received lengthy prison terms in both cases.

         Mabie brings multiple challenges on appeal. Specifically, he contends that, in the threat case, the district court improperly admitted evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b). He also argues that, in the assault case, the district court erred by refusing to allow him to proceed pro se and by forcing him to attend trial after he had waived his right to be present in the courtroom. Finally, he claims that he received unreasonable sentences in both cases. We reject these arguments and affirm Mabie's convictions and sentences.[1]

         I. Background

         Mabie received 340 months' imprisonment for his crimes-crimes that involved speech and letters riddled with scurrilous language directed at state and federal officials and their families. Throughout this opinion, we repeat his language to highlight the severity of his crimes and to illustrate why the district judges who sentenced him felt compelled to imprison him for what may be the better part of his life.

         We start with some background facts involving a prior conviction Mabie received in the Eastern District of Missouri for threatening a police officer. Although that conviction is not before us, the facts underlying it are necessary to provide context for the convictions and sentences subject to this appeal.

         A. The Eastern District of Missouri Case

         We begin in 2007 in St. Louis, Missouri. Then and there, Mabie worked as an auto-body repairman, renting space from Steven Reisch at Reisch's business called Affordable Auto. In August 2007, the two had a falling out, causing Mabie to look for new space to rent. Because Mabie had paid his rent through the end of the month, he left his work equipment at Affordable Auto as he conducted his search.

         At some point, Mabie's equipment-purportedly worth $25, 000-was stolen in a burglary. Reisch reported this burglary to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. Officer Joshua Wenstrom and others investigated, but they were unable to identify the thief or uncover other incriminating evidence. Thus, much to Mabie's chagrin, the police department cancelled the investigation and put the case on inactive status.

         Paranoia ensued. Mabie became convinced that Reisch was in on the burglary. Mabie contacted Officer Michael Deeba, whom Mabie had met before: Deeba was one of Reisch's customers who occasionally had work done on his cars at Affordable Auto. Mabie was frustrated with Wenstrom's inability to solve the case, so he wanted Deeba to investigate. But Deeba declined to help because he was a SWAT commander who did not investigate property crimes and because he knew Reisch through business dealings and did not want to create a conflict of interest.

         Because Deeba refused to investigate, Mabie concluded that Deeba too was in on the burglary. Between May and August 2008, Mabie called Deeba numerous times and left him several voicemail messages. In one message, Mabie called Deeba a "prick eater" and accused him of taking kickbacks. (R1. 216 at 66.) In another message, Mabie said, "I think somebody should check on [Deeba]. He might be up in his office hanging himself or committing suicide. I mean, I don't know that would be a bad thing, but maybe you should check on him." (Id. at 67.)

         It got worse from there: the messages grew darker and showed Mabie growing angrier as time went on. For instance, in one message, he said,

[W]here's this investigation fag? Come on you gutless son of a bitch. Let's have the investigation and find out what a crooked cock sucker you are and what a thieving bunch of crooked bullshit operation Affordable [Auto] is ... . See ya Mikey."

(Id. at 72.) And in another message, Mabie commented that the next day was Deeba's deceased uncle's birthday, and concluded, "Funny how I know things like this, isn't it? Have a super day. See you in Greenville." (Id. at 68.) Deeba lived in Greenville, Illinois.

         Mabie was also able to reach Deeba at the police station. During one call, Mabie told Deeba, "Why don't you have your wife suck my dick and we'll be even." (Id. at 70.)

         Deeba wasn't Mabie's only target: Mabie also sent numerous letters to Officer Wenstrom, accusing Wenstrom of conducting a shoddy investigation. Wenstrom received a final letter in May 2013-almost six years after the burglary. That letter stated,

Dear Josh, I know you are used to things being up your ass, [Officer] Anderson['s] tongue, Deeba's fist[, ] [Reisch's] cock, but what of something not so tangible like 07-078733.[2] Yes, yes, that was a while ago. As I sit here as direct link to your never getting of your ass, I'm still concerned. In fact, I do not have a statute of limitations. ... But wait, could it be you did not want to catch Reisch? AUSA says the DEA is well aware of what goes on at 4108 Hoff-meister and a Freedom of Information request to DEA, they will not deny Reisch assistance. Hmm. ... I don't give a fuck if he's the best snitch out there. I want my property. ... Well, asswipe, check this. Reisch can make reparation now, 25K for Sable, SABLE, 25K for equipment, 25K for lawyer fee and the rest can quit lying or I deal with every lying maggot all the way through.

(Id. at 35-37.)

         Eventually, internal affairs opened an investigation. On June 18, 2008, Officer Al Klein called Mabie. During that conversation, Mabie claimed that Deeba challenged him to a gun fight, which Mabie said would end badly for Deeba. Specifically, Mabie claimed that he "can hit what [he's] ai-min' at from 400 fuckin' yards" and even went so far as to comment on how blue Deeba would look if Deeba were dead. (R1. 214 at 59.)

         Shortly after, Officer John Anderson of the intelligence division began investigating to determine whether Mabie posed a credible threat to Deeba. On July 29, 2008, Anderson warned Mabie to stop threatening police officers. But Mabie persisted. On August 4, 2008, Mabie called Officer Anthony Brooks of the Greenville Police Department, claiming that Deeba challenged Mabie to a gun fight and that Mabie was "up for it." (Id. at 133.) Mabie further commented that St. Louis police officers think a gun fight is at 15 yards, but Mabie was good from 300 yards. After this call, Deeba asked the Bond County Sheriff's Office to patrol his property in Greenville. The sheriff's office complied with this request.

         After Anderson learned of Mabie's call to Brooks, Anderson called Mabie again. During their conversation, Mabie explained that he had an Ml, a 30 aught 6, and a 30 aught 8; he claimed that he could shoot and hit Deeba at 600 yards with these guns.

         Police officers arrested Mabie on August 4, 2008. At that time, he was living at his sister's house in Festus, Missouri. The officers searched the house. Although they did not find any weapons, they found a map to Greenville along with some Google Earth photos of the town. They also found a letter on Mabie's printer. The letter was addressed to Deeba's wife Deborah and purported to be from Reisch's wife Kim. Deborah received a copy of this letter, which read,

Dear Debbie, As you know, your crooked piece of crap husband (Lieutenant Michael Deeba) and Thieving pothead husband (Steve Reisch) have quite an enterprise what with Steve paying kickbacks to Mike so he can do every crooked low life thing that there is. As you may have heard, Steve and Mike are trying to muscle Bill Mabie out of his equipment. Already stole one car and working on stealing a '67 Camaro. One little problem, Bill Mabie knows about their arrangement. And Mikey and Steve's employees made the mistake of challenging him to a gun fight. Given SLMPD ... record of poor marksmanship, the neighbor must be warned. (Don't worry, I'll let everyone possibly know what is coming.) It might be best if you move. I know you think why not just give it back. What would be the point of being a scumbag cop if you acted legally. Sincerely, Kim Reisch. P.S. Good luck with the federal investigation.

(R1. 216 at 84.)

         The government charged Mabie in the Eastern District of Missouri with three counts of mailing threatening communications in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 876(c) and one count of interstate communication of a threat in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 875(c). The government used the above facts as evidence at Mabie's trial. In December 2008, a jury convicted Mabie of the charged crimes. See United States v. Mabie, 663 F.3d 322, 328 (8th Cir. 2011). The court sentenced Mabie to 88 months' imprisonment. As the officers escorted Mabie out of the courtroom, Mabie yelled, "[F]uck you, Deeba, I'm gonna get you." (R1. 216 at 90.)

         B. The Threat Case (15-1899)

         Apparently undeterred by an 88-month sentence, Mabie continued sending threatening letters, doing so from prison. One letter, dated January 29, 2012, was to Sheriff Jeff Brown of Bond County, Illinois. At Mabie's sentencing hearing in the Eastern District of Missouri, the government introduced an email from Brown in which he claimed that police officers had spent roughly 210 to 220 man hours searching and patrolling Deeba's property in response to Mabie's threats. In Mabie's letter to Brown, Mabie questioned the legitimacy of Brown's accusation and threatened Brown. Specifically, Mabie wrote,

220 hours? How about 5 minutes of legitimate investigation - of 07-078733 ALL I'VE EVER ASKED.....NOPE. Because it would no doubt send your boy Reisch (UNDISPUTABLE BOGUS REPORT) to prison - MUCH EASIER TO COME AFTER ME, except.........what happens when I'm released - OH NO!! and seek justice - please, please NOT THAT! I asked [United States Attorney Richard] Callahan [of the Eastern District of Missouri] if he would prosecute all you lying cock-suckers, or if he preferred kick your teeth in - NO RESPONSE Could be all you maggots should look for a dentist - GROUP RATES[.]

(R1. 106-1 at 5.)

         Mabie sent two additional letters to Deeba's wife Deborah. In the first letter, dated January 21, 2012, Mabie accused Deeba of misconduct. Regarding that conduct, Mabie wrote,

I asked Richard Callahan - U.S. ATTORNEY if he preferred to prosecute, or have these people's teeth kicked in down their throat-WELL, have you seen anyone prosecuted lately? ...

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