A Sacramento federal judge last week refused to hold a man in jail who has admitted directing murderous threats at the founder and employees of a Placerville biotech firm mentioned in a viral YouTube video as a recipient of fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood.
Catherine “Cate” Dyer says she and employees of her company, StemExpress LLC, are terrified that Scott Anthony Orton or someone else will make good on the threats.
Orton, 57, a resident of Puyallup, Wash., has admitted to the FBI that he let loose with a torrent of inflammatory invective in a series of Internet messages aimed at Dyer and her employees. He offered a reward to anyone who would kill Dyer and further said he would do it himself.
The messages were posted on the Fox Nation website two days after the July 14 release of a video recorded surreptitiously and released on the Internet by anti-abortion activists at the Center for Medical Progress, showing an unsuspecting Planned Parenthood doctor explaining how at least one Northern California Planned Parenthood clinic provides fetal tissue to Dyer’s company for research.
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With the cooperation of Fox News, FBI agents traced the incendiary messages to Orton, who pleaded not guilty to interstate threats last week in Sacramento federal court. If convicted, he faces a maximum of five years in prison. A Feb. 9 status conference is set before U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez.
Despite Dyer’s pleas and prosecutors’ arguments that Orton should be held without bail, U.S. Magistrate Judge Kendall J. Newman allowed him to remain free pending trial on an unsecured appearance bond ordered by a judge in Washington.
Among the release conditions Newman imposed: Orton is authorized to have “one pre-approved computer and one pre-approved iPhone” in his residence, and those are the only devices with which he may access the Internet; he must allow his pretrial services officer to install monitoring software on both devices, and he may use the computer and iPhone only for work purposes as approved by the officer.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gregory Gruber in Tacoma and Brian Fogerty in Sacramento insisted that the charge against Orton is a crime of violence, which carries a legal presumption that he is dangerous. But Newman in Sacramento and U.S. Magistrate Judge David W. Christel in Tacoma rejected the argument.
At a detention hearing last week, Dyer appeared as a witness. In a prepared statement, she described to Newman the fear and turmoil she and her employees have lived with since Orton’s threats, including how her home and StemExpress’ offices have become armed camps.
“To allow Mr. Orton to roam free for months before his trial while his victims continue to live in fear on a daily basis would be a grave injustice,” Dyer said. “His anger and hate have caused permanent trauma to me, my staff, our families and students that intern at StemExpress.”
She reminded the judge of Orton’s messages that “described how to murder us, where to murder us and offered to pay others to murder us because in his words ‘our deaths are worth more than our lives.’ ” She said that “explicit death threats by strangulation with piano wire posted on national media during a time that mass murders are actually occurring has to be addressed.”
The latter reference was to Orton’s response when asked by agents why he wrote that Dyer “is a death profiteer” who “should be hung by the neck using piano wire and propped up on the lawn in front of the building.”
Orton responded that he had recently seen a documentary on Hitler and the Third Reich and explained that piano wire was Hitler’s “methodology” for murder, according to an FBI affidavit filed in court. Orton elaborated that the use of piano wire is “a horrific thing,” and he intended to “paint a mental picture with words,” according to the affidavit. He further said, according to the affidavit, “I’m a wordsmith. That’s what I do.”
The affidavit also describes this exchange between Orton and the agents when they asked him about the message, “I’ll pay ten grand to whomever beats me to Dyer.” He responded that he was “just spit-balling.” They asked if he understood that such an offer could be construed as solicitation of murder for hire.
“The way I saw it in my mind, it would be more like a fund for defense,” he replied.
Almost six weeks after the Center for Medical Progress released the first video, it posted another one on its website and included a snippet of a meeting recorded surreptitiously between three StemExpress officials, including Dyer, and two individuals from CMP posing as representatives of a biomedical company interested in a business arrangement with StemExpress.
The footage of the meeting on May 22 at Bistro 33 in El Dorado Hills shows Dyer describing the reaction at a recipient lab upon opening a package containing the head of a fetus. One of the people working the sting observes that whoever ships the package should “make sure the eyes are closed.” Dyer agrees, and there is laughter. “Tell the lab it’s coming,” she says. “They’ll open the box, go, ‘Oh God,’ ” and there is more laughter.
Since the videos appeared, a shooter has killed three people and wounded nine at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., there have been four arsons at or near Planned Parenthood clinics across the nation and health care providers have reported an increase in threats and harassment of patients at clinics where abortion is offered.
StemExpress, meanwhile, has ended its relationship with Planned Parenthood.
A resident of El Dorado County, Dyer, 36, graduated from California State University, Sacramento, in 2005 with a degree in sociology, and received a 2015 Distinguished Alumni Award from the school’s Alumni Association. She also served on the board of the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce in 2015. In 2010, she founded StemExpress, which supplies human blood, tissue product, primary cells and other clinical specimens to biomedical researchers for regenerative medicine and research.
According to the FBI affidavit, among the messages Orton fired off following release of the first video are: “The management of StemExpress should be taken by force and killed in the streets today”; “I think I’ll take a little trip to Placerville this weekend. I hear there’s some good hunting down Placerville way....”; Dyer “will have to face the souls of the babies she’s bought and sold when she arrives on the other side. I’m sending her there early”; Dyer “must die. End of story. If we as humanity accept her actions we’re to be judged in the harshest manner possible”; and Dyer’s “life isn’t worth squat.”
As a result of the messages, Dyer said in her court statement last week, “multiple security, tactical and law enforcement teams suddenly began walking our hallways and homes carrying guns and training our staff on how to deal with attackers and active shooter situations on site. Police and our security team members chased cars that were following our families. Staff members have taken time off work due to stress and emotional unrest. Bomb surveillance protocols have been established and our building has been put on permanent lockdown. The expense for these services has been astronomical.
“I began to have full-time armed security protect our office, me personally, and my family,” Dyer continued. “My security team, which is made up of ex-military, observed numerous occasions where cars would surveil my house, people using long-lens cameras, sometimes climbing trees on neighboring properties.
“I will never forget the times they told me to not exit the house because they believed someone had breached our property, or when the morning surveillance of our fence lines turned up a pile of cigarette butts behind a bush on a fence line near my master bedroom.”
Denny Walsh: 916-321-1189