Louisville, Kentucky -- Dropping his First Amendment defense, a 28-year-old Louisville man pleaded guilty Tuesday to threatening the president of the United States in a poem.
Johnny Logan Spencer Jr., had said he would contest the charge on free-speech grounds. But appearing in U.S. District Court in Louisville, he entered a guilty plea to a single count of threatening to inflict bodily harm on the president through a poem titled "The Sniper," which he posted on the Internet earlier this year.
Spencer, who admitted the offense without a plea bargain, will be sentenced Nov. 2 by Judge Joseph H. McKinley Jr. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The poem, which was posted on a white supremacist website, describes a sniper killing the president and includes the language "DIE negro DIE."
Magistrate Judge Dave Whalin had previously ruled that the threat wasn't protected merely because it appeared in a poem, saying it wouldn't have mattered if Spencer "carved the message into a stone sculpture" or "cross-stitched it on a pillow."
Whalin noted that the 16-line poem is "entirely dedicated to the assassination of the current president of the United States based solely on his race" and "expresses no larger theme or commentary on social or political issues of the day."
Spencer's lawyers didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. However, in a motion to change his plea, one of them, Laura Wyrosdick, said that Spencer was incarcerated while awaiting trial and "eager to resolve his case." The trial was set for Aug. 3.
Spencer had apologized to the Secret Service for writing the poem and said he never intended to assassinate the president. But Whalin said that doesn't matter because the question is whether reasonable people to whom the message is addressed would construe it as an intention to harm the president.
Spencer was arrested after the poem was posted on the website NewSaxon.org, which purports to be "An Online Community by and for White Americans."
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney's Marisa J. Ford and Lettricea Jefferson-Webb and investigated by the Secret Service.
Reporter Andrew Wolfson can be reached at (502) 582-7189.