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Judge Balks at Light Sentence in Poison Case

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge rejected a recommended sentence of 30 months in prison and three years probation for a former San Francisco political consultant who pleaded guilty to possessing a biological toxin and a firearm with the serial number removed.

Ryan Kelly Chamberlain, who once worked on Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom's San Francisco mayoral campaign, addressed the court at his sentencing Wednesday.

"I just want to say that I never intended to hurt anybody," Chamberlain told the court. "The big difference between before and now is that I was undiagnosed. I'd been managing depression for a very long time and just hit rock bottom. It's diagnosed now. You tend to wear a mask around your friends and family, and no one knew. Now they know, so I have this support group around me. I haven't been able to talk about this for two years.

"I love my people and I love my city. There was never an intent to hurt anyone, even people who hurt me. I was heartbroken but I'd never hurt them."

Chamberlain, 44, has been in jail since his arrest in June 2014. The FBI had him under surveillance for weeks and found records of poisons purchased on the dark Web and shipped to his apartment.

Agents hunted Chamberlain for three days after he fled, and eventually apprehended him in a San Francisco park. He'd also posted a suicide note online in which he talked about his depression, family troubles and a difficult break-up.

In his plea agreement, Chamberlain detailed his dark Web purchase of two vials of the biological toxin abrin concealed in flashlights. Chamberlain also bought a .22 caliber Derringer pistol.

The agreement also lists a myriad of other items seized during law enforcement searches of Chamberlain's San Francisco apartment between May 31, 2014 and June 12, 2014: a jar containing a circuit board receiver, a rocket motor, screws and ball bearings, sodium cyanide, syringes, and castor beans - from which the poison ricin is derived.

Federal prosecutors had recommended an additional three years of supervised release with limits to and monitoring of his Internet use and the requirement that he submit to mental health counseling. The government's probation office recommended 10 years of supervised release with the same strict conditions.

Chhabria said he strongly disagreed with both probation recommendations, considering Chamberlain's psychiatric condition.

"From the standpoint of protecting the safety of the public, three years of supervised release is grossly inadequate. Even the recommendation of a 10-year period of supervised release is significantly inadequate, " Chhabria said.

He asked federal prosecutors, "Given the facts of this case, how could you have decided three years was adequate to protect the safety of the public?"

Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Kearney said the decision was informed by the fact that Chamberlain had been a functioning member of society for so long prior to his criminal actions.

"How do you know he won't go the three years, then have another lapse?" Chhabria asked.

"The government doesn't have a crystal ball," Kearney said. "However we feel that since the defendant has been able to maintain his status as a functioning member of society for so long, with the proper incentives he can get back on his feet."

Chamberlain's public defender Elizabeth Falk said statistically most probation violations occur with the first three years, if at all. "It's molding your behavior, and after three years it's going to stick."

She added, "The plea agreement was reached because the government really didn't have any evidence that Mr. Chamberlain ever intended to harm anyone other than himself. It's a sad case of someone who was in a dark place and was hoping his death would be more interesting than his life."

Chhabria countered: "Mr. Chamberlain ordered abrin on the dark Web, he ordered castor beans, which one can use to make ricin, he ordered a number of bomb components, he ordered a gun with the serial number scratched off. That doesn't sound like someone who only intended to hurt himself."

Falk said the only thing Chamberlain purchased on the dark Web was the abrin. Everything else, she said, "was just garden variety stuff you can get at any hardware store."

The castor beans, she said, were bought from a gardening website and sat unopened in his apartment for 18 months.

Chhabria asked: "What about the bomb components?"

Falk replied, "Those were part of an experiment Mr. Chamberlain was using to make a video."

The judge shot back, "Nonetheless, the fact that he possessed all that stuff is pretty strong circumstantial evidence that he intended to harm someone other than himself."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Wright interjected, "We do share the court's concern regarding public safety and we think this agreement puts us in a better position now than we were three years ago in 2014."

To which Chhabria replied, "That doesn't seem like an apt comparison," and set another court date for April 12.

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