A Palm Beach County man who pleaded guilty to threatening to kidnap a local woman committed suicide in custody last week just days before he was to be sentenced, one of his attorneys confirmed Sunday.
Alexander Petersmarck, 32, who had a history of mental health problems, hanged himself Thursday, his attorney Michelle Suskauer said when contacted by phone Sunday. His family published a death notice Sunday in The Oakland Press a Michigan newspaper.
His attorneys were told that he was in custody at the Federal Detention Center in Miami when he took his own life but they have not been given details of what happened, Suskauer said.
Petersmarck, of Palm Beach Gardens, was scheduled to be sentenced at 11:30 a.m. Monday in federal court in Fort Lauderdale . He was facing a maximum of 20 years in prison but sentencing guidelines recommended six to seven years.
"We were going to be arguing Monday in court that he had a diminished mental capacity and that was why he wound up involved in this incident," Suskauer said. "It's a very unfortunate end for a tortured boy. We're deeply saddened by it and I know his family is devastated.
Psychologists and family member wrote in court records that he had a history of severe depression and suicidal and delusional thoughts they felt contributed to his criminal acts.
"I'm not sure why somebody who had this history and was on medication was not supervised more closely," Suskauer said.
A U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokesman in Washington, D.C., confirmed an inmate suicide last week in Miami is under investigation. He referred questions to detention center staff who could not be reached despite several attempts by phone.
Petersmarck pleaded guilty in May to sending threatening letters to a wealthy Palm Beach man. According to court records, he targeted the businessman and his adult daughter, identified only as M.G. and M.B.G., and threatened to kidnap or poison the daughter.
In January, the daughter went to a Palm Beach restaurant for a business meeting with a new client. When the man canceled, she returned to her car and found a white teddy bear on the windshield, according to court records.
A few days later, the father received a package containing a photograph of cuddly toy on the car as proof that his daughter was being followed, investigators said. The package contained a demand for $5 million in Guatemala Government Bearer bonds and $600,000 in untraceable U.S. currency, court records show.
Federal agents traced the man's cellphone and identified his vehicle. Petersmarck was arrested near the scene of a fake ransom drop staged by the FBI . A search of his apartment turned up voice-altering equipment and written details of the plan, investigators said.
On July 18, Petersmarck tried to withdraw his guilty plea at a hearing in federal court in Fort Lauderdale. He read aloud a prepared statement that covered several handwritten pages and tried to fire his lawyers.
He appeared outwardly calm and behaved politely in court though he was obviously troubled and concerned about his plight. He said he felt he acted rashly in pleading guilty and questioned whether there was enough evidence to convict him at trial.
In addition to Petersmarck's detailed confession when he pleaded guilty, an FBI agent testified in court in July that Petersmarck admitted what he did during a meeting with the prosecution, the agent and his defense attorneys earlier this year.
Two federal judges who examined his claims in recent weeks ruled his attorneys represented him well and he had no grounds to withdraw his plea.