TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A northeastern Kansas man is facing a felony charge of threatening to kill one of the state’s congressmen. But his trial has been postponed indefinitely so that a federal judge can decide whether he is too mentally ill to help his lawyers or follow what’s going on in court.
Federal prosecutors contend in court documents that Chase Neill, 31, from Lawrence, developed a fixation on Republican Rep. Jake LaTurner, who represents an eastern Kansas district. Neill is accused of threatening to kill LaTurner in a June 5 voicemail message left at LaTurner’s office and continuing to make threatening calls the following day.
A magistrate said later that month in ordering Neill to remain in custody that he had threatened other members of Congress. The others have not been named, and Neill is charged only with threatening LaTurner.
A hearing is scheduled in the case for Nov. 8, Election Day. Neill’s trial initially was set to start in September, but U.S. District Judge Holly Teeter granted a request from both sides to have Neill’s mental health examined.
“There is reasonable cause to believe that Mr. Neill has a mental disease and that the mental disease renders him unable to assist properly in his defense,” Teeter wrote in her two-page order.
LaTurner was a Kansas state senator and state treasurer before winning his U.S. House seat in 2020.
Threats to lawmakers are at an all-time high almost two years after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. In San Francisco early Friday, an intruder attacked and severely beat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband with a hammer in their home while searching for the Democratic leader and shouting: “Where is Nancy, where is Nancy?”
In the Kansas case, neither the U.S. attorney’s office for the state nor Neill’s defense attorneys would comment Friday. LaTurner’s office also wouldn’t discuss the case. It was not clear whether Neill’s examination is complete.
“Rep. LaTurner’s office will continue to cooperate with local and federal law enforcement on this matter,” spokesperson Mike Howard said in an email.
One pretrial report on Neill said he believes he is “the Messiah,” and prosecutors have said in court documents that he believes he was “obligated by God” to warn “certain public figures” and detail the results of not heeding his warnings.
U.S. Magistrate Rachel Schwartz cited the pretrial report in refusing a request from Neill in August to be released from custody. She said in her order that he had $150,000 in student loan debt but no income.
Schwartz said in her order that Neill suffered a head injury four or five years ago, “characterized as a head fracture.”
The pretrial report said that in March 2018, Lawrence police had reports that Neill, who was living with his mother there, was delusional and paranoid and accused one officer of trying to steal his “unicorn business idea.” Neill was sentenced to six months in jail in February 2019 on a domestic battery charge, the report said.