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Five Years After His Arrest, Prosecutors Try To Push Back Justin Carter's 'Terroristic Threat' Trial


Way back in the summer of 2013, Justin Carter, a teen living in Texas, made a joke on Facebook while chatting with other League of Legends players. Responding to facetious comments he was insane, Carter sarcastically agreed, using a very regrettable choice of words.

Oh yeah, I'm real messed up in the head, I'm going to go shoot up a school full of kids and eat their still, beating hearts…

This was followed with "lol" and "jk," which would indicate Carter wasn't taking his words seriously and neither should anyone else. Unfortunately, someone in Canada took his words seriously and reported him to law enforcement. Prosecutors decided to bring terroristic threat charges against the 18-year-old, taking his comments both seriously and out of context.

Things went from stupid to insane quickly. Prosecutors got the judge to agree to set bail at $500,000. Carter's family was unable to get him released while he awaited trial. During the time he was locked up, Carter reported being beaten frequently by other inmates and placed on "suicide watch" by jailers. "Suicide watch" basically translates to being stripped of all belongings and most of your clothing and being sent to solitary confinement.

Fortunately, an anonymous donor paid Carter's insane bail to spring him from jail. If this person hadn't, there's a good chance Carter would still be locked up, if not actually dead. Carter isn't a hardened criminal with a long juvenile rap sheet. He's a young gamer who said something stupid online and has since been subjected to the full force of prosecutorial discretion.

Five years later, he's still waiting to go to trial. The trial was due to start February 20 but prosecutors filed a motion asking the judge to push the trial date out even further.

The motion, filed Feb. 13 by Assistant District Attorney Clayten Hearrell in Comal County’s 247th District Court, argues that the state needs more time to pursue a Canadian witness who first reported Carter’s comments to authorities in 2013.

This sounds like prosecutors simply want to make Carter's life hell for as long as possible. This isn't the move of an attorney who feels he has a strong case to pursue. For most of the last half-decade, Carter has been technically free, but his movements limited due to his pending trial. On top of that, Carter has been forbidden from using any online services without the prior written consent of the corrections department.

Carter's lawyer is justifiably angry.

Flanary said Monday that he was caught off guard by the state’s motion. “What have they been doing for the past five years?” he asked of Hearrell and his fellow prosecutors. Flanary also noted how the witness the state is trying to secure would not add much to the prosecution’s case, because Carter is not denying he posted the comments in question. Rather, Carter asserts that he posted the comments sarcastically, and thus should not be considered a serious threat.

This is a damn good question: what exactly would this person add to the state's case, considering her testimony would be completely redundant. Does the state think the key to securing a conviction is a jury hearing firsthand how one person took Carter's comments seriously enough to report them to law enforcement? As his lawyer points out, Carter isn't disputing the fact he posted the comments, so there's nothing this Canadian "witness" could possibly add, other than an unfamiliar accent.

Fortunately for Carter, the presiding judge is no more impressed by the prosecution's last-minute attempt to push Carter's trial even further down the road.

“There’s no continuance on a 5-year-old case,” [Judge Jack Robison] said, setting the trial for May 14.

[...]

Robison said in court Tuesday that Carter’s trial would have been held right then and there if a settlement had been reached in the only case ahead of him on the court’s docket — for which a large jury pool was assembled in the courtroom.

This is better but it still allows the state to control Carter's life for a couple more months. His original trial date was supposed to be February 20th. Prosecutors didn't get the indefinite extension they wanted, but they do get to keep Carter on ice for another 60 days.

I'm sure prosecutors feel jurors won't take Carter's comments as seriously as they do. They seem intent on locking Carter up for a long time, even though context makes it clear the post was joke. The state offered a plea deal -- eight years in prison -- but this has been rejected by Carter and his counsel. Juries can sometimes be unpredictable, but this last-ditch continuance request reeks of desperation -- an attempt to put off an inevitable acquittal for as long as possible. It's almost as though the prosecution has bought into the Sunk Cost Fallacy and can't stop throwing resources at its lemon of a case.


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