A judge has sentenced a disbarred lawyer who admitted to threatening to kill several Democratic members of the US Senate, then tried to surrender in Washington, D.C., the Justice Department announcement Friday. U.S. District Judge Jennifer P. Wilson of the Middle District of Pennsylvania sentenced Kenelm L. Shirk72 years old, to the sentence served – that is to say 16 months and 20 days in prison – for having threatened to assassinate an American official.
In addition to the time already spent behind bars, Judge Wilson has also order Shirk to remain on probation for a year and pay a $10,000 fine.
Shirk reached a deal with prosecutors in March that included an agreement on a sentence reduction recommendation in exchange for a guilty plea. He faced a maximum possible sentence of 10 years in federal prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
In a press release, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Intermediate District of Pennsylvania noted that Shirk wanted to execute lawmakers “in retaliation for performing their official duties on January 6, 2021.”
As previously reported by Law&Crime, Pennsylvania State Police officers intercepted a heavily armed Shirk on January 21, 2021 as he headed toward the nation’s capital.
Police had parked vehicles along the road from Shirk’s home in Washington, D.C. on Interstate 81 after his then-wife Marsha Chamberlain called authorities and reported that she and Shirk had an argument over the results of the 2020 presidential election and the Jan. 6 siege. Chamberlain reportedly told police that after the argument, Shirk threatened to kill her, then revealed he planned to kill several Democratic Party senators in Washington, DC.
Shirk’s wife also reportedly told authorities that her husband had said that if he encountered any resistance from the police, he planned to get out by “suicide by a cop”. According to the filed complaint, Chamberlain “did not want to see [her husband’s alleged attack] on the news and feeling like she was responsible.
Chamberlain requested a 302 mental health warrant through the Lebanon County Crisis Center, prompting police to issue a “be on the lookout” (BOLO) for Shirk’s vehicle.
After stopping the vehicle, police searched Shirk’s car and recovered several firearms, including a rifle and several handguns, along with a large amount of ammunition. After the search, police arrested Shirk and charged him with making terrorist threats.
Police then transported Shirk to the Chambersburg Hospital emergency room where a nurse performed a mental health assessment. The nurse reportedly told authorities that Shirk said his plan was to stop in Virginia on the way to DC and visit his son and granddaughter. He would then “get up early enough to avoid traffic” so he could be with the senators “before they go to work”.
The nurse assessor reportedly said Shirk spoke in a “flat, deadpan voice” and “sounded serious when talking about killing his wife and government officials”.
Another hospital worker told police she found a handwritten list among Shirk’s possessions that listed things like “guns, ammunition, rope, tools, medicine, a magazine,” according to the complaint.
“Both nurses said they found Shirk intimidating and disconcerting,” the document claimed.
Shirk had remained in custody at the Dauphin County Jail since his initial arrest. A judge had ordered his detention without bail.
The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania last May excluded Shirk from the practice of law following his arrest. Disciplinary files say that Shirk was admitted to practice law in the Keystone State in October 1974.
In a resume attached to a defense sentencing memorandum, Shirk listed a “Christian community” as one of his “representative legal clients.”
The defense memo itself indicates that Chamberlain is now Shirk’s ex-wife. The document claims that Shirk’s comment about his wife’s murder was nothing more than a “sarcastic comment” during a “medical interview”. His lawyer claimed the comment was nothing but ‘hyperbole’ and ‘should not be construed as a real threat’.
Shirk’s attorneys also argued that he never uttered the specific words “suicide by cop”.
Federal prosecutors have requested an 18-month sentence, a fine and a year’s probation.
Federal authorities wrote the following in their own sentencing note:
It was a very serious situation in which the defendant told his ex-wife that he was going to kill Democratic members of the United States Senate. On January 21, 2021, the accused loaded his car with several firearms, dozens of magazines and hundreds of cartridges. Due to the defendant’s actions, multiple national, state, county and municipal agencies from Lebanon County Pennsylvania to Washington DC rushed across the Commonwealth to confront this potentially unstable individual with loaded firearms. The accused put every law enforcement officer in danger of confronting him with deadly force. Keep in mind this was just over two weeks after the Capitol Riots and events of January 6, 2021 in Washington DC
Authorities eventually tracked down the accused at a public gas station. The defendant’s vehicle was at a pump and the defendant was walking out of the building towards his vehicle. Based on the threats made by the accused and the preparations made by the accused, the police faced a potentially explosive engagement in a public place, near gas pumps. This was an inherently dangerous situation, whether or not the defendant actually said the words “suicide by a cop”.
It’s not like the defendant hasn’t had time to calm down, reconsider, call his ex-wife, reach out to his son or one of the many well-wishers. intent who wrote a letter on his behalf to help defuse the situation. The Respondent had supporting resources. The accused was met about an hour and a half from his home. The defendant had a working cell phone. Instead, the accused stopped, refueled, and was ready to pursue his objective. It was through the intervention of the Cornwall Borough Police Department, the Lebanon County Mental Health Crisis and the Pennsylvania State Police at Carlisle and Chambersburg Barracks that the accused did not achieve its goal.
Federal authorities also said the defendant’s attempt to downplay his comments to hospital staff should not have been considered:
If things had simply gotten out of control with his ex-wife, the defendant would have revealed it to the nursing staff, taking the opportunity at the hospital to pause, reflect and defuse the situation. Instead, the accused doubled down, repeating the threat to kill and laying out the details. A few hours later, he told the doctor, who could release him, that this situation was exaggerated and taken out of context. The accused wants his sentencing court to believe the same.
Sentencing memos, charging documents and several other motions are embedded below:
[image via Franklin County Jail]
Do you have a tip we should know? [email protected]