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Ex-County Attorney Pleads Guilty to Threatening to Kill Democratic Lawmakers After Arguing with His Wife About 2020 Election and Capitol Siege

Kenelm L. Shirk (Franklin County Jail)

Kenelm L. Shirk (image via the Franklin County Jail).

A former county attorney in Pennsylvania accused of planning to kill several Democratic members of the U.S. Senate after having an argument about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has reached a deal with prosecutors.  Kenelm L. Shirk, a 72-year-old former Lancaster County attorney, pleaded guilty to one count of threatening to murder U.S. officials, court documents reviewed by Law&Crime show.

The plea was entered before U.S. District Judge Jennifer P. Wilson of the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Shirk is facing a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison and up to 3 years of probation following his release.

According to the Justice Department, officers with the Pennsylvania State Police on Jan. 21, 2021 intercepted Shirk’s vehicle 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 called authorities and reported that she and Shirk had argued about the results of the 2020 presidential election and the Jan. 6 siege, local FOX affiliate WPMT reported. She reportedly told police that after the argument, Shirk threatened to kill her and then revealed that he was planning to kill several Democratic 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, Shirk’s wife “did not want to see [her husband’s alleged attack] on the news and feel like she was responsible.”

Police performed a search of the defendant’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.

Per WPMT, authorities 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,” WPMT reported.

Shirk has remained in detention at the Dauphin County Prison since his initial arrest, online records show. The Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last May disbarred Shirk from the practice of law following his arrest.

Prosecutors said they plan to make a specific recommendation regarding Shirk’s sentence at his sentencing hearing.

Shirk’s attorney, John Abom, reportedly told local news outlet LancasterOnline that prosecutors were “making a mountain out of a molehill.”

“We dispute — and it will be an issue at sentencing — with him being in his car with his lawfully possessed firearms, was anything other than heading to Alexandria, Va., to visit his family members,” Abom reportedly told the newspaper following the proceedings.

Abom reportedly said he planned to ask the court to sentence his client to time served.

Abom did not immediately respond to a message from Law&Crime regarding Shirk’s plea or upcoming sentencing.

Read the plea agreement 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.