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Disbarred Attorney Sentenced for Threatening to Kill Senate Democrats in ‘Retaliation for the Performance of Their Official Duties on Jan. 6’

Kenelm L. Shirk (Franklin County Jail)

Kenelm L. Shirk (Franklin County Jail).

A judge has sentenced a disbarred attorney who admitted he threatened to kill several Democratic members of the U.S. Senate and then tried to travel to Washington, D.C., the Department of Justice announced on Friday. U.S. District Judge Jennifer P. Wilson of the Middle District of Pennsylvania sentenced Kenelm L. Shirk, 72, to time served — that’s 16 months and 20 days in prison — for threatening to murder a United States official.

In addition to the time already spent behind bars, Judge Wilson also ordered Shirk to remain on supervised release for one year and to pay a fine of $10,000.

Shirk in March reached a deal with prosecutors that included an agreement to a reduced sentence recommendation in exchange for a guilty plea. He was facing a maximum possible sentence of 10 years in federal prison a maximum fine of $250,000.

In a press release, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania noted that Shirk wanted to execute the lawmakers “in retaliation for the performance of their official duties on January 6, 2021.”

As previously reported by Law&Crime, officers with the Pennsylvania State Police on Jan. 21, 2021 intercepted a heavily armed Shirk as he was en route to the nation’s capital.

Police had stationed vehicles along the route from Shirk’s home to Washington, D.C. on Interstate 81 after his then-wife Marsha Chamberlain called the authorities and reported that she and Shirk had argued about the results of the 2020 presidential election and the Jan. 6 siege. Chamberlain reportedly told the police that after the argument, Shirk threatened to kill her and then revealed that he was planning to kill several Democratic Party senators in Washington, D.C.

Shirk’s wife also reportedly told authorities her husband said that if he was met with resistance from police he planned to go out via “suicide by cop.” According to the filed complaint, Chamberlain “did not want to see [her husband’s alleged attack] on the news and feel like she was responsible.”

Chamberlain petitioned for a 302 mental health warrant through the Lebanon County Crisis Center, prompting police to issue a “be on the lookout” (BOLO) for Shirk’s vehicle.

After stopping the vehicle, police performed a search of Shirk’s car and recovered multiple firearms, including a rifle and several handguns, as well as large amount of ammunition. Following the search, police took Shirk into custody and charged him with making terroristic threats.

Police then transported Shirk to the Chambersburg Hospital Emergency Room where a nurse performed a mental health evaluation. The nurse reportedly told authorities that Shirk said his plan was to stop in Virginia on his way to D.C. and visit his son and granddaughter. He would then “get up early enough to beat the traffic” so he could be at the homes of senators “before they left for work.”

The evaluating nurse reportedly said that Shirk spoke in a “monotone, deadpan voice” and “sounded serious when he spoke of killing his wife and members of the government.”

Another hospital employee told police that she found a handwritten list among Shirk’s possessions that listed things such as “guns, ammo, rope, tools, meds, magazine,” per the complaint.

“Both nurses reported they found Shirk to be intimidating and disconcerting,” the document asserted.

Shirk had remained in detention at the Dauphin County Prison since his initial arrest. A judge had ordered him to be held without bond.

The Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last May disbarred Shirk from the practice of law following his arrest.  Disciplinary records say Shirk was admitted to practice law in the Keystone State in October 1974.

In a resume attached to a defense sentencing memorandum, Shirk listed a “Christian fellowship” as one of his “representative law clients.”

The defense memo itself says Chamberlain is now Shirk’s ex-wife.  The document asserts that Shirk’s comment about killing his wife was nothing more than “a sarcastic comment” during a “medical interview.”  His attorney asserted that the comment was nothing but “hyperbole” and “should not be construed as an actual threat.”

Shirk’s attorneys also argued that he never uttered the precise words “suicide by cop.”

Federal prosecutors asked for a sentence of 18 months, a fine, and supervised term of release of one year.

The feds wrote as follows in their own sentencing memo:

This was a very serious situation in which the defendant told his ex-wife that he was leaving to kill Democratic members of the United States Senate. On January 21, 2021, the defendant loaded his car with several firearms, scores of magazines, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Because of the defendant’s actions, multiple national, state, county, and municipal agencies from Lebanon County Pennsylvania to Washington D.C. scrambled throughout the Commonwealth to confront this potentially unstable individual possessing loaded firearms. The defendant put every responding law enforcement officer in danger of confronting him with deadly force. Keep in mind that this was a little over two weeks after the January 6, 2021, Capitol riots and events in Washington D.C.

Authorities finally found the defendant at a public gas station. The defendant’s vehicle was at a pump, and the defendant was exiting the building walking towards his vehicle. Based on the threats the defendant made and the preparations the defendant took, the police faced a potentially explosive engagement at a public place, in the vicinity of gas pumps. This was an inherently dangerous situation regardless of whether the defendant actually uttered the words “suicide by cop.”

It is not as if the defendant did not have time to calm down, reconsider things, call his ex-wife, reach out to his son or any one of the many well-meaning supporters who wrote a letter on his behalf to help defuse the situation. The defendant had resources of support as his disposal. The defendant was encountered approximately an hour and half from his home. The defendant had a working cell phone. Instead, the defendant stopped, refueled and was ready to proceed to his objective. It was through the intervention of the Cornwall Borough Police Department, Lebanon County Mental Health Crisis, and the Pennsylvania State Police from both Carlisle and Chambersburg barracks that the defendant did not reach his objective.

The feds also said that the defendant’s attempt to minimize his comments to hospital staff should not have been given any weight:

If things had merely gotten out of hand with his ex-wife, the defendant would have disclosed that to the nursing staff, taking the opportunity at the hospital to pause, reflect, and de-escalate the situation. Instead, the defendant doubled down, by repeating the threat to kill and expounding on the details. Hours later, he told the doctor, who could release him, that this situation was overblown and taken out of context. The defendant wants his Sentencing Court to believe the same thing.

The sentencing memoranda, the charging documents, and several other motions are embedded below:

[image via Franklin County Jail]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.