Facing what was likely the final public appearance of his life, 61-year-old John Arthur Walthall—a onetime successful insurance salesman turned convicted gold mining swindler—appeared simultaneously nervous and bitter today inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse while waiting to learn his punishment for plotting the attempted wood chipper assassination of federal officials in Orange County.
A shaking Walthall slowly sipped water from a tiny paper cup and stared at U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney, who rejected a defense-proposed 120-month term and agreed with Department of Justice officials that the appropriate punishment "to deter others from engaging in such a despicable crime" should be the maximum allowable under federal sentencing guidelines: 20 years in prison after the defendant finishes his current 14-year stint in 2023 for wire fraud.
Carney told a stone-faced-but-eager-to-rant Walthall that his 2014 Lompoc prison plot to kidnap, torture and murder U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford, assistant United States attorneys Ivy Wang and Mark Takla, FBI agents Brad Howard and Frank Bernal as well as one of his previous defense lawyers, James Riddet, was "diabolical."
"Mr. Walthall is a dangerous, manipulative and cruel man," Carney announced after predicting the defendant will likely spend the rest of his life in high-security custody. "He knew what he was doing and he knew it was wrong."
Earlier this year, a jury deadlocked on the former Laguna Beach resident's guilt, but a second panel in July rejected an insanity defense, though Walthall repeatedly interrupted proceedings with emotional outbursts slamming his lawyer's strategy and labeling himself the sane, innocent victim of a conspiracy involving judges, prosecutors, federal agents, defense lawyers, Archdiocese of San Bernardino, wealthy New York financiers, a former girlfriend, multi-national corporations and, yes, the Illuminati.
Guilford, who presided over Walthall's wire fraud conviction, ranked at the top of the inmate's target list of conspirers who supposedly set him up to quietly steal his money and gold reserves. He wanted the judge forced at gunpoint to make an Internet video confession about his participation in judicial corruption and then fed feet first into a wood chipper. Such a confession would result in his release from prison, he reasoned.
To explain his current predicament, Walthall asked Carney for 30 minutes to give a 70-page, handwritten speech outlining his victimization and reasons for a conviction "reversal and dismissal." He sighed into a microphone when the judge limited his remarks to 20 minutes, ignored his prepared words and launched into a frantic, disjointed presentation I am unable to adequately outline because its contents ranged from U.S. Senator Rand Paul to gold powder to gun silencers to "equitable sharing" to Gov. Jerry Brown to the Orange County Register to "stand up defecation" and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn."
He also called his trial "a charade" and the evidence against him "false and fabricated" by the FBI.
Walthall claimed, "Everything that has happened in these proceedings is a violation of [my constitutional rights]."
Turning to the courtroom audience where Wang, Takla and Howard sat, he added, "Now I see prosecutorial immunity in operation to take my life from me. You have no conscience. I didn't commit any crime."
Howard, who specializes in white collar crime investigations, received the bulk of the defendant's wrath during the hearing, asserting the agent is involved in "policing for profit" and "equitable plundering."
According to Walthall, he is in danger because prison officials placed an Aryan Brotherhood shot caller in his cell and have housed him with sex offenders who want to gang rape him.
"I fear for my life because of this," he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman called Walthall a "con artist" who fakes emergencies—like shoving his fingers up his nose to cause bleeding—in hopes of avoiding the consequences of his criminal actions.
"This defendant needs to be kept under lock and key for as long as possible," said Braverman. "This defendant will not stop [attempting revenge killings]."
Noting his client is considered "a loner, nut and weird," defense attorney Tim Scott argued Walthall's "mental illness" made him vulnerable to two other Lompoc inmates who served as veteran law enforcement informants, planted the assassination plot idea to win their own reduced sentences and then cleverly pretended to solve the crime by alerting government officials.
"He's not a silver-tongued bamboozler," said Scott. "There is no evidence he can successfully manipulate people to do his bidding. He has no [prison] visitors and almost no contact with the outside world. He's entirely estranged from his family and he has no money on his books."
Largely because the FBI obtained prison-yard recordings of the defendant demanding Central American hit men execute the scheme for multi-million dollar payouts, Carney didn't accept the attempt to shift blame, but he did recognize Walthall needs "a mental health evaluation and treatment."
Scott said he would file an appeal within 14 days. Issues will include whether the judge lawfully forced Walthall to use the San Diego-based defense lawyer when he wanted to defend himself. The defendant told Carney that Scott fabricated "this mental health issue" against his wishes.
As armed U.S. marshals removed him from the courtroom at the conclusion of the sentencing hearing, Walthall blurted, "I also object to being murdered in prison!"
Carney wasn't impressed, responding, "Mr. Walthall, please be quiet."
If the would-be assassination mastermind emerges from custody at the age of 88 in about 2043, he'll undergo federal probation supervision for an additional three years.
R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.