A Chicago botanist pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges of mailing threatening letters to then-Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and others after authorities shot a wild cougar to death in the city in 2008.
Richard D. Hyerczyk appeared in federal court Thursday, charged with one count of mailing a threatening communication. The 54-year-old entered a guilty plea before Judge Gary Feinerman as part of a deal. Prosecutors say Hyerczyk was released pending his sentencing because he isn't considered a threat.
Hyerczyk is an instructor at the Chicago Botanical Garden. The institution's website describes him as a lichen expert.
"Mr. Hyerczyk was identified as a suspect who sent over 90 threatening and harassing letters to individuals, entities, private officials and public officials all around the Chicago area," Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Veatch said.
In a plea agreement, Hyerczyk admitted writing threats such as "a police officer will be shot dead," and "prepare to die like the cougar you killed."
The threats also extended to the children of police officers, who Hyerczyk wrote "will be tortured and killed."
Prosecutors say Hyerczyk also threatened to burn down Daley's vacation home in Michigan. Days after that letter, two homes belonging to Daley's Michigan neighbors caught fire.
"This investigation and these charges only relate to the sending of the threats. I am not able to speak about any fire that was set there," Veatch said.
Cougars were thought to be extinct in Illinois. But in April 2008, police shot one running through a residential neighborhood. Biologists later said the cougar made its way to Illinois through Wisconsin.