Woman charged in Sandy Hook parent threat a court no-show

(AP) -- A Florida woman charged with threatening the parent of a boy killed in the 2012 mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Connecticut, was a no-show Wednesday at change-of-plea hearing and now faces a more severe punishment if convicted.

The lawyer for Lucy Richards told U.S. District Judge James Cohn that she contacted his office Wednesday morning and said she was refusing to come to court for her scheduled hearing to plead guilty. Cohn issued an arrest warrant and said Richards will be held without bond once she's in custody.

"Did she give a reason?" Cohn asked.

"No," said Robert Berube, the public defender representing Richards. "I don't think there's any way she's going to make an appearance."

Richards, 57, lives in Brandon, Florida, on the state's west coast about four hours from the Fort Lauderdale federal courthouse. Her whereabouts were unclear Wednesday. In previous court appearances she used a walker and wheelchair to get around and said she was on disability.

She was set to plead guilty to a charge of interstate transmission of a threat to injure for threatening Lenny Pozner, the father of 6-year-old Noah Pozner who died in the shooting at the Sandy Hook school. Prosecutors said she told them she believed the shooting was a hoax.

Others linked to the Sandy Hook massacre have reported harassment by conspiracy theorists who argue it was staged to erode support for Second Amendment gun rights. The case comes amid a growing trend toward fake news stories and baseless conspiracy theories, such as the "Pizzagate" case in which a man fired an assault rifle inside a Washington, D.C., pizzeria restaurant after going there to investigate unfounded claims it harbored a child sex abuse ring.

Authorities say Richards made four voicemail and email threats to Pozner on Jan. 10, 2016, including messages that said "you gonna die, death is coming to you real soon" and "LOOK BEHIND YOU IT IS DEATH." Another threat ended with, "and there's nothing you can do about it."

Each of the four charges carries a potential five-year maximum prison sentence. Under terms of Richards' agreement, she was to plead guilty to one count and would have been sentenced to probation and house arrest with no prison time, Berube said. Now, all bets are off on that arrangement and prosecutors could insist on a prison sentence because of her failure to appear in court.

Richards previously was barred from visiting websites that promote conspiracy theories and ordered to have no contact with anyone connected to the Sandy Hook mass shooting. She had been free on $25,000 bail.

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Follow Curt Anderson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Miamicurt

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