A mentally ill and disabled man was sentenced Tuesday to three years in a federal prison for violating his parole by trying to make the...

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A mentally ill and disabled man was sentenced Tuesday to three years in a federal prison for violating his parole by trying to make the poison ricin.

Attorneys for 38-year-old Robert Alberg, who has a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome and has been diagnosed with clinical depression and other mental illnesses, argued for leniency in U.S. District Court, saying that Alberg’s unsuccessful attempts to brew the poison from castor beans posed no risk to the public.

If anything, they said, Alberg’s efforts were motivated by depression, loneliness and a desire to end his own life. They said he had once before ordered mercury, which is highly toxic, and rubbed it all over his body in an attempt to commit suicide.

U.S. Attorney Carl Blackstone said that while prosecutors were sympathetic to Alberg’s disabilities and need for mental-health treatment, it was “time for a little tough love.” Alberg was on probation after an earlier attempt to make ricin when he again was found to be experimenting with the ingredients of the deadly poison.

“The government was hoping we would not see Mr. Alberg again and that he would no longer have an interest in castor beans,” said Blackstone, who had argued for a four-year-prison term. “We were wrong.”

Alberg is the son of Tom Alberg, the managing director of Madrona Venture Group, an early investor in Amazon.com and a former executive of McCaw Cellular. He was arrested in April 2004 after federal investigators learned he had ordered 5 pounds of castor beans online and had been using them in an effort to make the deadly poison in his Kirkland apartment.

Federal prosecutors said they did not believe after the initial arrest that Alberg intended to harm anyone and they joined defense attorneys in recommending a sentence of five years probation. That allowed Alberg to receive intensive supervision and treatment after he pleaded guilty to possession of ricin in August 2004 and was placed on probation.

In June 2005, however, Alberg was arrested for violating the conditions of his probation by possessing castor-bean seeds that he had purchased online and had hidden away in the group home where he lived.

Alberg’s attorneys were successful in persuading U.S. District Court Judge James L. Robart to recommend that Alberg serve his sentence at the federal prison in Rochester, Minn., where experts said he has less chance of being preyed upon by other inmates and more opportunity of getting mental-health treatment.

Tom Alberg, who attended Tuesday’s sentencing, later issued a statement that read: “We had hoped for a shorter length of time, because the experts most familiar with Robert and his medical condition concur that the federal prison system can’t provide the treatment he needs. We know that when Robert returns, he will need on-going treatment for the rest of his life.”

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com