WASHINGTON — A Quebec woman accused of sending a poisoned letter to former president Donald Trump sounded resigned to her fate Wednesday as she grudgingly pleaded guilty to biological weapons charges and agreed to a sentence of nearly 22 years behind bars.
"I need to move on now," Pascale Ferrier, 55, told U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich as she acknowledged the details of the case during a hearing in Washington, D.C., where she has been in custody since the spring of 2021.
The guilty plea also included eight charges from a separate case in Texas, where Ferrier sent similar letters to police officers, supervisors and prison officials after spending 10 weeks in jail in the state in 2019 on charges that were ultimately dismissed.
Friedrich made clear that she would not sign off on the sentencing recommendation in Ferrier's plea agreement, which includes a prison term of 21 years and 10 months, until she receives a pre-sentencing report, expected in late April.
Ferrier, clad in short-sleeved orange prison garb, her greying dark hair cropped close and pant legs tucked into white socks, displayed a striking knowledge of legal procedure as Friedrich took pains to ensure she understood the circumstances.
Most of what Ferrier said consisted of brief, one-word answers to Friedrich's questions, like "yes" and "I understand." But she betrayed a lingering sense of anger at one point when the judge asked her to confirm the details of the plea deal.
"Plea agreements are generally designed to be unfair and iniquitous, giving the government pernicious advantages while defendants have to waive a bunch of their fundamental rights away," the French-born Ferrier said in a thick Parisian accent.
"I analyzed and weighed all possible options. These plea agreements are not the best, but the least deleterious design by the criminal 'injustice' system."
Ferrier, who holds an engineering degree from France and crafted her poison of choice — ricin — at her Montreal-area home from scratch by using castor beans, surprised Friedrich more than once with her familiarity with the court process.
"Miss Ferrier, you are demonstrating again and again that you are very informed about what you're doing here today," said the judge, herself a Trump appointee who's been on the federal bench since 2017.
"I spent hours in the library," Ferrier replied, her public defender Eugene Ohm at her side.
Ferrier was arrested at the Peace Bridge Canada-U.S. border crossing in Buffalo on Sept. 20, 2020, and charged with sending a letter to Trump containing the poison ricin. The letter was intercepted Sept. 18 before it could be delivered to the White House.
"There is no place for political violence in our country, and no excuse for threatening public officials or endangering our public servants," D.C. U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves said in a statement following the hearing.
"We hope this resolution will serve as a warning that using our mail system to send a toxic substance and other threats of this type will cost you your freedom for many years."
According to prosecutors, the letter to Trump contained language similar to the letters sent to officials in Texas. It described the poison as a "special gift" and concluded with a threat to "find a better recipe for another poison, or I might use my gun when I’ll be able to come." The letters were all signed "Free Rebel Spirit."
In a sworn affidavit to obtain the arrest warrant, an FBI investigator wrote the envelope contained a powdery white substance with a letter to Trump calling him "The Ugly Tyrant Clown." The letter, intercepted less than two months before the 2020 presidential election, accused Trump of ruining the United States and called on him to "give up" his re-election bid.
"On Sept. 18, 2020, the United States Secret Service notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation of a letter addressed to the White House," said assistant U.S. attorney Michael Friedman as he read into the record a detailed synopsis of the facts of the case.
"Special weapons of mass destruction co-ordinators and hazardous material experts were required to deploy to various locations when the letters were received."
Authorities said that when Ferrier was arrested she was in possession of a loaded handgun, nearly 300 rounds of ammunition, a stun gun, pepper spray, a truncheon and a fake Texas driver's licence.
A sentencing hearing in the case is tentatively set for April 26.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2023.
James McCarten, The Canadian Press