BR man gets 41 months in prison for threatening to kill Jim Letten

A Baton Rouge man who pleaded guilty in November to threatening to murder former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, of New Orleans — as well as members of Letten’s family — was sentenced Tuesday to 41 months in federal prison plus three more years under supervision after he’s released.

Gerald P. Estrade, 57, of Baton Rouge, will be transferred to a federal prison in the next few weeks to serve his sentence, which U.S. Attorney Walt Green said was at the higher end of what was recommended under federal sentencing guidelines.

“All threats against public officials will be thoroughly investigated and vigorously prosecuted by this office to the full extent of the law,” Green said in a news release. “Our public officials should not have to live in fear for doing their jobs.”

Estrade also faced fines totaling as much as $250,000, but Green said a fine was never likely since Estrade has no money.

U.S. District Judge James Brady handed down the sentence, which included a recommendation that Estrade get mental help. Brady had previously found Estrade competent to stand trial after having him examined by mental health experts.

Letten attended Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, but didn’t testify in person, opting to submit a written statement instead, Green said.

Letten did not return a phone message left late Tuesday seeking comment.

“I am extremely grateful to U.S. Attorney Walt Green, his great staff and certainly the men and women of the FBI,” Letten said in November. “It’s obvious to all of us that this individual, Gerald Estrade, is a dangerous individual.”

Brady ordered Estrade to be examined by mental health experts prior to a competency hearing. In late April, the judge ruled Estrade was mentally competent to stand trial.

Estrade walked into Baton Rouge General Medical Center-Mid City on Jan. 2 and told the staff he had swallowed pills in an effort to commit suicide, according to the FBI.

While undergoing treatment in the hospital’s behavioral unit, he relayed the death threat against Letten to Jeff LeDuff, former Baton Rouge police chief and at the time chief of security at Baton Rouge General Medical Center-Mid City.

Green, the U.S. attorney, said Estrade told LeDuff that if released he planned to buy a gun, go to Letten’s New Orleans residence, hide behind a large oak tree, then kill Letten and his dog in front of Letten’s daughter.

LeDuff immediately alerted Letten of the threat.

FBI Special Agent Kobey McCall and another FBI agent interviewed Estrade that same day at the hospital.

McCall later said in an affidavit that Estrade admitted to agents he planned on “killing Letten and his family, and then killing himself.”

Estrade also told agents that he had threatened Letten’s life years earlier, 2005 or 2006, when he was a state prison inmate, in a letter he’d written to the FBI, McCall said.

Green said Estrade blamed Letten for subsequent problems he suffered in state prison as a result of that letter.

Estrade previously served more than 21 years in Louisiana prisons for the 1988 manslaughter of his 10-year-old daughter, Melissa. The girl was reported missing in August 1988 and her body was discovered in a wooded area of southern Mississippi in December of that year.