Enfield man gets probation for death threats sent to same-sex marriage opponent

By Alex Wood Journal Inquirer | Posted: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 1:36 pm

Calling Daniel Sarno “clearly a disturbed individual who needs a great deal of help,” a federal judge on Tuesday sentenced the Enfield man to five years’ probation for mailing death threats to the executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut over the group’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

In making his sentencing argument, Assistant Federal Defender Gary D. Weinberger said he “was touched” by a letter to the judge from Lawrence Taffner, the Hartford-based Family Institute’s operations director, which spoke of the need to temper justice with mercy and prayer.

After court, Peter Wolfgang, the Family Institute’s executive director, who was the primary target of Sarno’s harassing and threatening letters, said he agreed “with every word” of Taffner’s letter, “including mercy.”

“I do forgive Mr. Sarno,” Wolfgang said.

But he also expressed concern about “a growing campaign of intimidation with respect to those of us who advocate traditional values, in an effort to silence us.

“And we will not be silenced,” he added.

Wolfgang said he learned of Sarno’s intention to plead guilty to mailing the threats on the same day last August that Floyd Lee Corkins II was charged in the non-fatal shooting of a security guard at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. Corkins’ political agenda is believed to have been similar to Sarno’s.

Federal sentencing guidelines called for Sarno, who is 54, to receive 10 to 16 months’ confinement, although they also authorized the judge to imprison him for only half that time and put him in a halfway house or under house arrest for the remainder.

Prosecutor John H. Durham called on the Senior Judge Ellen Bree Burns, who imposed the sentence in U.S. District Court in New Haven, to impose a sentence consistent with the guidelines.

Durham said Sarno sent hundreds of harassing letters to the Family Institute over six months.

Wolfgang is married, with six young children, and has co-workers and neighbors, all of whom were also victims of Sarno’s threats, the prosecutor argued.

“You change your whole lifestyle” in the face of death threats, the prosecutor said.

He also argued that “the body politic” is a victim of threats like Sarno’s.

While Sarno was free on bond after his guilty plea, Enfield police arrested him based on the accusation that he had sent his brother, with whom he lives, a letter threatening to eviscerate him, the prosecutor said. State judicial records, available on the Internet, contain no record of such a case, indicating that Sarno hasn’t been convicted.

The defense lawyer said in his sentencing memorandum that a probation officer’s report on Sarno’s background and a psychological evaluation demonstrate that Sarno “suffers from significant mental illness.”

He attached a letter from Dr. Jonathan Greenberg, a psychiatrist, and psychologist Coleen Dobo, both of Community Health Resources, who said Sarno is under their care for treatment of a “mood disorder.”

“Mr. Sarno has a long history of struggles with anxiety and depression and managing relationships,” they wrote. “He has an extensive trauma history. These symptoms and psychosocial stressors in combination with notable deficits in his coping abilities would make him vulnerable to victimization and a disintegration of his mental status should he be imprisoned.”

The defense lawyer wrote, “It is beyond dispute that his mental and emotional problems contributed to his offense conduct. They permeate every part of his life.”

Weinberger told the judge Tuesday that the threatening letters “were cries of anguish that are difficult to understand without the insight of the psychological evaluation,” which was submitted to the judge but hasn’t been made public.

Reprinted by permission of the Journal Inquirer

Leave a Reply