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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 16, 2003

Woman guilty in cruise-threat case

By David Waite
Advertiser Courts Writer

A 20-year-old California woman was at least six months' pregnant when she sent two threatening notes last month to the crew of a passenger ship traveling from Mexico to Hawai'i and the woman's lawyer said hormones were partially to blame for her actions.

Kelley Marie Ferguson pleaded guilty in federal court yesterday to a felony charge during a hearing in which her condition was disclosed.

Federal Magistrate Judge Kevin Chang ruled that Ferguson could be released to her parents and placed under house arrest to await sentencing by federal Judge Helen Gillmor on Sept. 22 when the California woman will likely be sentenced to prison. She faces up to 20 years, but her attorney said she'll probably be sentenced to one or two years.

Ferguson stood at the defense table in a baggy blue detention center uniform with her arms folded in front of her and her ankles shackled as Chang asked why she pleaded guilty.

"I wrote threatening letters while aboard the Legend of the Seas, which was heading to Hawai'i," Ferguson told Chang while her parents, Tim and Debra Ferguson, listened to the court proceeding via a telephone hookup from Laguna Hills, Calif.

In a telephone interview last night from his home, Tim Ferguson said he is relieved that Chang agreed to release his daughter.

"We're happy about that, of course," he said.

His daughter's pregnancy came as a surprise he said.

"It's something the father of any daughter worries about — that someday she might walk through the door with her boyfriend and say, 'Guess what, I'm pregnant,' " Ferguson said.

How much of an ordeal has the past three weeks been for his wife and their other children?

"Take one of your kids and throw them in jail and accuse them of being a terrorist and see how it feels," Ferguson said. "She's not a terrorist."

Kelley Ferguson's April 22 letters threatened that passengers who boarded the ship in Ensenada, Mexico, and crew members would be killed if the ship pulled into a port on American soil.

After the two notes were found, the crew conferred with U.S. authorities and the ship was diverted from its intended destination of Hilo and anchored about a mile off O'ahu.

A terrorism response team made up of members from more than a dozen local, state and federal law enforcement agencies searched the ship but found no explosives or other devices that would have allowed the threat to be carried out. The Coast Guard bill totaled more than $300,000.

Loretta Faymonville, a deputy federal public defender who is representing Ferguson, said her client believed the notes would cause the ship to head back to Ensenada "and she would be able to go home" to her boyfriend.

"I'm not a doctor and I don't know the details, but I do know that hormone levels shift when you're pregnant," Faymonville said after the court hearing. "It's pretty clear Kelley was not thinking right" when she wrote and placed the notes aboard the ship, Faymonville said.

Ferguson was charged initially with "committing an act of terrorism" when she was arrested on April 27.

But an indictment returned against Ferguson by a federal grand jury on May 7 listed two counts against her of conveying false information about an intention to kill passengers and crew members aboard the ship, but did not include the initial terrorism charge.

She pleaded guilty to one of the two counts yesterday in exchange for the other count being dropped.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson, who is prosecuting the case, said the original terrorism charge was not pursued because as the investigation progressed, it became clear that Ferguson never intended to affect the actions of the U.S. government or to retaliate against the government for some prior action, which must be shown in the case of someone charged with a terrorist act.

The news that Ferguson is pregnant came as Sorenson was outlining why the government was withdrawing its objections to her being released to the custody of her parents to await sentencing.

Sorenson asked that Ferguson be made to wear a monitoring device that will provide authorities with her exact location 24 hours a day and will alert them if it is tampered with.

Sorenson also asked that Ferguson be ordered to have no contact with her boyfriend Joshua Brashear, 23, believed to be the father of Ferguson's unborn child.

Chang granted the request and also ordered that a $5,000 cash bond be posted by May 19 with the federal court in Santa Ana, Calif., which will oversee Ferguson's release; that Ferguson surrender her passport and not try to obtain a new one; and that she undergo a psychiatric evaluation, take all medications prescribed to her and remain at her parents' home.

Her parents said that they are willing to serve as her sponsor, that the sponsor duties had been explained to them and that they understand that they have a duty to tell authorities if Ferguson violates any condition of her release.

Sorenson said Ferguson faces a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or as an alternative to the fine, twice the amount of the gross loss to every person who was affected by her actions.

Faymonville said outside the courtroom after the hearing that she believes federal sentencing guidelines and the lack of a prior criminal history will likely result in a prison term of one to two years for Ferguson. She agreed with Sorenson that probation is out of the question.

Ferguson believes she is about seven months pregnant, Faymonville said. She said she learned of the pregnancy after Ferguson was given a medical examination at the Federal Detention Center.

Sorenson said the pregnancy should not have any effect on her sentence and the government's position is that Ferguson should serve time in a federal facility.

Reach David Waite at dwaite@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8030.