Florida prisoner who threatened to behead US judge given 3 years behind bars
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A federal judge in Orlando sentenced a state prison inmate Tuesday to just over three years in prison plus three years of probation for mailing a letter in 2021 threatening to murder a senior federal judge in Jacksonville and his wife.
Jeziah Guagno, 24, of Boynton Beach, Florida, pleaded guilty to one count of mailing a handwritten, threatening letter to U.S. District Judge Harvey Erwin Schlesinger, 83, according to court records. Guagno tried to make it appear the letter came from a cellmate, but the FBI traced it to Guagno using DNA from saliva agents found on the sealed envelope.
The letter threatened to sexually assault Schlesinger’s wife before killing her and beheading Schlesinger and then sending Schlesinger’s body parts to his children.
The sentencing occurred at a time of escalating security concerns for judges. Earlier this month, a man was sentenced to up to four years in state prison after jumping over a judicial bench and attacking a Nevada judge. In July 2020, the son of a federal judge in New Jersey was killed by a Manhattan lawyer who had a previous case in her court.
The U.S. Marshals Service, which tracks threats and inappropriate communications against federal judges, said the number of incidents has skyrocketed since 2015 from 926 to 4,511.
Guagno, whose 2022 prison photograph shows tattoos on his face and inked flames on his neck, suffers from such serious mental illness that it delayed the criminal case against him for 17 months until he could be treated. He pleaded guilty but told court officials he didn’t remember sending the letter because he was not taking his medication at the time, he said.
Prosecutors asked the judge to send Guagno to prison for as many as 46 months, but U.S. District Judge Roy B. Dalton, Jr. decided on 37 months behind bars. He also fined Guagno $100. Schlesinger attended the sentencing Tuesday by phone because of bad weather that swept across northern Florida.
Guagno was expected to attend a substance abuse program, undergo mental health treatment and have no contact with the victim or victim’s family.
A previous lawyer for Guagno, Melissa Duncan of West Palm Beach, told the court that Guagno was imprisoned in solitary confinement at 17 and permitted to leave his jail cell for a total of 45 minutes per week, conditions she said that lasted for over 17 months. She said guards knocked out his two front teeth.
In 2019, Guagno said a Florida prison guard had assaulted him while he was in restraints at the Suwannee Correctional Institution in north-central Florida. The next year, Guagno asked Schlesinger to order an investigation; however, Schlesinger denied the request, saying judges can’t file criminal charges against someone or order an investigation. Schlesinger recommended Guagno file a complaint with the state prison.
In May 2021, Schlesinger received a handwritten letter about Guagno's case reopening.
“I know where you and your family live, so if you want to stay alive past the next 60 days your best bet is not to get anybody involved in this,” Guagno wrote in the letter.
Guagno tried to frame fellow inmate Mack Arthur Simmons II by writing Simmon’s name on the envelope. The FBI discovered the real author by testing the DNA on the sealed envelope that was licked.
Guagno had been serving time for a 2016 robbery, aggravated assault and a hit-and-run crash where he had no driver’s license, according to court records. In 2018, he was also convicted of punching a fellow inmate.
From June 2022 to August 2023, Guagno completed competency evaluations and a psychological evaluation, which found him incompetent to proceed in court hearings and said he “continues to display symptoms of mental illness,” according to court documents. In June, he was well enough to continue the criminal case.___This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at email@example.com. You can donate to support our students here.