A Young Man's Violent Threat on Facebook Lands Him in Jail, and Limbo

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But by July 2013, Carter's defense had gained momentum in two important ways: Flanary stepped in and offered his services pro bono — something he wanted to do because, he says, "This stuff is messed up." And then news coverage of the case, which up to that point had been reported mostly by Austin and San Antonio media, went global.

Flanary was particularly incensed at the $500,000 bond, saying, "The Texas Constitution and virtually all case law from it says that it's illegal to keep someone under conditions of bond they can't afford."

Flanary requested a hearing to reduce Carter's bond, and Carter's parents took advantage of the media interest and began speaking about the emotional costs of the situation. (Unfortunately, Flanary didn't want Carter or his parents to comment for this story.)

In a CNN interview, Carter's father, Jack, said that his son was under suicide watch.

"He's very depressed," Jack Carter said. "He's very scared and he's very concerned that he's not going to get out. He's pretty much lost all hope."

Carter's mother, Jennifer, told the World Socialist Web Site in June 2013 that when she first found out her son had been arrested, "I thought as soon as the police talk to him, they will see it was a joke and let him go. If anything, it would be a misdemeanor. I thought if they talked to him, they would realize it was just his sarcastic sense of humor."

When asked what kind of person Carter was, Jennifer said, "My son is sarcastic and has a dark sense of humor, for sure. But he's a pussycat. He can't fight. He has a younger brother, and when they would fight, Carter would always lose."

Then, shortly after Flanary requested the bond-reduction hearing, good news came in the form of an anonymous donor who put up the money for Carter's bond.

But in an August 2013 update on the Save Justin Carter page, Jennifer Carter expressed her continued fear over her son's future. "Justin is out of jail," she wrote, "but he is not free."

If Carter is to be measured by his Facebook activity, he is, with a few notable exceptions, a pretty typical kid. At least for a nerd.

Certainly, he appears to be more comfortable online, where he met fellow fans of games like League of Legends and Minecraft. He boasted of high gaming scores, griped about school and work, and wrote a zombie-apocalypse story in which he alternately protects "New Austin" from the cannibalistic walking dead and gets laid like a champ. He playfully sparred with his parents, who are divorced, and doted on his younger brother.

The big red flag is his reference to a temporary restraining order a high school ex-girlfriend obtained against him in October 2011. The ex, who asked not to be named, told the Press that, when she told him she wanted to end things after two weeks with him, Carter's behavior scared her. She says he talked about hurting himself — and her.

"At first I thought he was just playing," she says. "I blew it off."

But then, she says, "He started threatening me, saying that he would kill me...I told the school officers, [and] they started watching him really closely. He would say that he would shoot up the school." She also accused him of stalking her.

Because she and Carter were juveniles at the time, the order is not public, and the woman said she did not have a copy. The woman said she was in foster care at the time and ran away from her group home before attempting to secure a permanent restraining order.

"There wasn't a determination either way about the veracity of her claims, and he [was] never given an opportunity to answer it," Flanary says, adding that it's entirely irrelevant to the charge against his client.

Carter made light of the restraining order at the time, writing on Facebook, "Wow [I] can't believe im already at the phase in my life where my crazy ex takes a restraining order out on me>.>now [I] have to go to court when im not even gonna argue it im just gonna be like YES GIVE ME ONE TOO PLEASE [sic]."

Shortly afterward, Carter claimed he was engaged to another student, writing that "she is the love of my life and I am so happy, please be happy with me, If you are interested in attending our wedding which we be held late next year, please let me know thank you [sic]."

But comments posted earlier that year are darker. In January 2011 he wrote, "Noone likes me, I have no friends. I'm ugly, I'm annoying. The only good aspect is im smart. Too smart. Soo smart it bothers people. They think im crazy im not christian another strike against me. Im weird. Noone likes the weird random kid [sic]."

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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
Contact: Craig Malisow