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2-Year Term for Terror Hoax

Laguna Hills woman, 20, is ordered to federal prison for threats she made during a Hawaiian cruise. Defense attorney calls the sentence unfair.

September 23, 2003|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

A Laguna Hills woman was sentenced to two years in federal prison Monday for leaving threatening notes on a cruise ship in an attempt to cut short her family's Hawaiian vacation.

Kelley Marie Ferguson, 20, pleaded guilty in May to violating a Patriot Act provision that makes it a crime to convey false threats to passengers or employees of a mass transportation provider. She told investigators that she wanted to turn the ship around so that she could be with her boyfriend.

"I really feel that justice was done," Assistant U.S. Atty. Ken Sorenson, who prosecuted the case, said following Monday's sentencing by U.S. District Judge Helen Gillmor in Honolulu.

"Basically what happened here is that we had a young woman who committed a horrendous offense from the standpoint of how it affected other people," Sorenson said. "It was a very stupid criminal act [that] caused a great amount of fear and anxiety, [and] we believe it was a serious crime."

Lori Faymonville, a federal defender representing Ferguson, disagreed. "I don't think it was fair," she said. "I don't think it is necessary to imprison young people who make mistakes like this. I think that, in another time, young people could make mistakes and get a second chance."

Ferguson was arrested April 25, three days after the first of two notes threatening to "kill all Americanos abord" was found by a cleaning crew in a women's restroom aboard Royal Caribbean's Legend of the Seas. When a second note was found the next day, the ship's captain told the 1,668 passengers and about 700 crew members that the vessel would be diverted to an anchorage off Oahu instead of its scheduled port of call at Hilo.

The investigation quickly focused on Ferguson, who had been on a 10-day cruise from Ensenada to the Hawaiian Islands with her parents and three sisters. According to court records, the young woman told investigators that she didn't want to be on the cruise and hoped the threatening letters would force the ship to return to its Ensenada launch point, enabling her to reunite with her boyfriend in Orange County.

Investigators later learned that she was seven months pregnant at the time, a fact she had concealed from her parents.

"The boyfriend was the only one who knew," Faymonville said Monday. "She thought her parents and her family would disown her, and nothing could be further from the truth. She just acted out of desperate impulse."

Both parents sat glumly in the courtroom Monday as their daughter listened attentively to the judge. Ferguson's daughter, born June 25 while she was under house arrest at her parents' Laguna Hills home, waited in Faymonville's nearby office during the hearing, the lawyer said.

In imposing the sentence, Gillmor recommended that Ferguson undergo a psychiatric evaluation and counseling. "I do believe you're a troubled individual," she said.

The young woman "held up pretty well" during the hearing, Faymonville said, "but started crying right after the judge left. As soon as the judge left, she reached for the Kleenex. We came back here and the first thing she did was hold the baby."

The family was expected to return to California immediately, the lawyer said, where Ferguson will spend six more weeks under house arrest before reporting to a federal prison yet to be named. The relationship with the baby's father appears to be over, Faymonville said.

"I don't think Kelley would be a danger to anybody if she stayed home with her baby," she said. "She never was a danger to anyone anyway, outside of this one stupid thing that she did."

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