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Plea of Guilty Rejected in Case of Witt Letters


SANTA ANA — A federal judge Tuesday refused to accept a guilty plea from a Westminster man who is accused of sending threatening and obscene letters to Olympic champion ice skater Katarina Witt.

Unable to determine whether the 47-year-old defendant, Harry Veltman III, was aware of the consequences of his actions, U.S. District Judge Gary L. Taylor rejected Veltman's plea and ordered a competency hearing.

The hearing will be held Feb. 5 to rule on Veltman's mental stability, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Wayne Gross, who is handling the prosecution's case.

Veltman told the judge he had intended for some time to plead guilty to allegations that he sent 60 threatening and obscene letters to Witt between November, 1990, and July.

"I can see why Katarina Witt might consider some of my letters to be threatening, but I never meant them as a threat," Veltman read from a statement in a clear and firm tone. "And I can see why she might consider some of my letters to be obscene, but I think of them as erotic love letters attempting to cause her to lust for me so that she might begin to love me . . . then marry me and stand with me as a prophet of God.

"I was willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause. Please forgive me, Katarina, and drop the charges against me. I'll never do it again. I love you so much, I went crazy trying to get you to love me and marry me."

After he read his statement, Veltman, who has been representing himself in court, refused to answer the court's questions.

"I have entered my plea and given my explanation," he said. "I have nothing more to say."

Taylor then rejected the guilty plea, and he scheduled the trial for March 10, pending the ruling on his competence.

At a competency hearing earlier this month, a federal magistrate ruled that Veltman, who authorities say has a history of psychological problems, is mentally competent to stand trial and can act as his own attorney.

Veltman remains at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles without bail.

He was arrested on Dec. 26, the day before the former East German gold medal winner was scheduled to appear at the Forum in Inglewood. Veltman, an unemployed crop-duster, was also arrested last January after throwing allegedly threatening letters onto the ice as Witt skated before a crowd in Denver. He was not prosecuted in that case.

Last week, a federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted Veltman on seven felony counts of sending obscene and threatening letters through the mail. Each count carries a sentence of up to five years' imprisonment.

According to Gross, Witt is expected to be subpoenaed to testify against Veltman if there is a trial.

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