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Snake's Alive! Deadly cobra mailed to songwriter
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES -- The spitting cobra seemed anxious to end its travels through the U.S. postal system.
Stuffed in a foam-filled box, the 2-foot-long South African snake, one of the deadliest in the world, stuck out its head, ready to greet the unsuspecting man who received the venomous package last week at his home, authorities said.
An investigation continued Tuesday as Los Angeles police tried to determine where the blackneck spitting cobra was mailed from and why it was sent to Joseff Calhoun, the 30-year-old Los Angeles songwriter who trapped the slithering interloper by quickly closing the lid. Calhoun escaped without injury and notified authorities.
Calhoun told police he had no idea why anyone would mail him a reptile; police said the culprit, if found, could be charged with attempted murder.
"The snake was not random," said Detective Rick Swanston of the Los Angeles Police Department's West Valley division. "Either someone was trying to kill (Calhoun), or hurt him or send him a message."
Deputy Chief Ronald Bergmann, the Valley Bureau's commander, said authorities are also looking into a connection with Death Row Records, a label that helped launch such hard-core rappers as Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg into commercial successes. Its controversial co-founder is the recently jailed Marion "Suge" Knight, the focus of a six-year federal racketeering probe in which the government investigated Knight's alleged ties to street gangs, drug-running, money laundering and violent acts.
Bergmann said Calhoun received a threatening letter in November, but he declined to give further details about it or a Death Row connection.
Calhoun could not be reached for comment Tuesday. His attorney said the letter was vague but frightening. "It said something to the effect of, 'I'm coming to get you. Bang, bang,' " said Malanie Baghdaian . "It was very simple and very disturbing."
Prior to the November letter, Baghdaian said Calhoun had received another threat on his life, though Baghdaian said she did not know the specifics. Her client, she said, had told her he does not know who might want to harm him.
Initially, Calhoun had planned to speak Tuesday at a police station news conference but canceled it at his attorney's suggestion.
"He is pretty nervous," Baghdaian said. "He's happy he was smart enough to close the lid on the box."
Neither Baghdaian nor her client believes a connection exists between the cobra and Death Row Records, now known as Tha Row. "It doesn't make sense," said Baghdaian, while saying she does not know the specifics of Calhoun's music dealings or if he had worked with the label.
A spokesman for Tha Row Records said the label is unaware of the songwriter and has no knowledge of a cobra connection. Authorities, meanwhile, euthanized the reptile Tuesday morning at the Los Angeles Zoo.
The decision to kill the cobra was based on the reptile's dangerous nature coupled with an inadequate place to house it, Russ Smith, the zoo's reptile curator, said. A tumor was also found on its face, he said.
California law prohibits people from owning venomous animals without a permit from the state Fish and Game Department. Authorities, however, said a cobra or other creature can be obtained for less than $100 from reptile dealers, often found on the Internet.
The blackneck spitting cobra is usually dark with a pinkish belly and eats rodents, birds and other reptiles. It spews venom that can irritate human eyes, even causing partial blindness. Its bite is often fatal.
Throughout its ordeal, the snake seemed angry, Smith said. Indeed, Calhoun was lucky to escape the riled reptile.
"One of the first things this kind of cobra does when it's angry is rear its head, raise its hood into a wide band and spit venom," Smith said.