The mother of 19-year-old Justin Carter is still collecting signatures -- 134,927 at last count -- trying to enlist supporters to keep her son from being labeled a terrorist and sentenced to prison.
Photo from the Comal County Sheriff's Office
She began working on this as a plea for her son's release from a New Braunfels prison when an anonymous "good Samaritan" posted the $500,000 for his bond. Now she urges supporters to continue signing and sharing her son's story.
The trouble began when Carter was jailed for allegedly making a threat on Facebook during a verbal dispute over the online game League of Legends. Carter was called "crazy" by the person he was arguing with, and according to the arrest warrant, Carter responded by saying, "I'm fucked up in the head alright, I think I'ma shoot up a kindergarten and watch the blood of the innocent rain down and eat the beating heart of one of them."
Carter's parents say their son followed this comment with the words "LOL" and "JK" to show he wasn't being serious.
"Someone called him effing crazy and he rhetorically, sarcastically, ironically responded back, 'If I'm so crazy I think I'll go shoot up a kindergarten and drink their blood,' and they said, 'I hope you burn in hell you effing prick,'" Carter's attorney Don Flanary told Hair Balls.
This comment was seen across the Web, and a woman in Canada took a screen shot of the exchange, reporting it to Canadian Crime Stoppers. The photo was turned over to U.S. authorities and on February 14, Carter was arrested for making terroristic threats. This incident occurred just two months after the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary shootings.
Flanary said that when authorities illegally met with Carter without an attorney, the teenager admitted to writing the post and maintained that he was joking. Police searched his home and found no weapons, but Carter was transferred to the New Braunfels Police Department and then indicted with the image from the screen shot.
Carter's family said they had been unable to have their son released because they couldn't afford the money to bail their son out, and Flanary said that the unusually high bond is unconstitutional, since Texas law entitles defendants to bonds they can afford.
"I have murder clients that have bonds that are much lower than that, somewhere around $100,000, and it's outrageous that his bond was five times as high," Flanary said.
The case is unique to Flanary, who said he's never had to go to trial for something a teenager posted online. The argument is not over whether what Carter said was insensitive; rather, the question is if what he said was criminal.
The case has attracted widespread attention from the media and free speech activists, who claim that Carter's imprisonment is a violation of his First Amendment rights.
"That becomes dangerous when we try to prosecute people's speech; that's why the First Amendment protects speech, because it's so fundamental to our expression in a free society," Flanary said. "And there's so many dangerous pitfalls that can occur when you try to limit or criminalize people's speech because speech is all about context... and the officers didn't care about the context."
The expensive bond and the drawn-out process of the case have raised the question of whether or not there is something else that had kept Carter behind bars, but according to Flanary, the only thing keeping the case open is the prosecutor.
"This is ludicrous, and some people will say, 'There's got to be something more here,' but that's it, there's nothing more to it," Flanary said. "It's pretty straightforward...it's just the prosecutor won't dismiss."
Carter's father told NPR that his son had endured beatings while in prison and was in solitary confinement suffering from depression.
Meanwhile, Carter's mother began asking for signatures to have her son released and petitioning President Obama to change the law.
Carter was released last Thursday when the anonymous donor gave the half a million dollars to post the entire bond, but Carter still faces a felony terrorism charge. When Hair Balls called the Comal County District Attorney's office, they refused to comment on the story, but according to this press release, Carter could face a $10,000 fine and up to ten years in prison.
For now Carter is at home with his family, but they are preparing themselves for their hearing. Flanary said they will fight vigorously for Carter's First Amendment rights.
"I'm not saying it wasn't an insensitive or crass thing to say, but people say rude things all the time," Flanary said. "It's not a crime to say something rude."
They go to trial August 12 to request immediate dismissal.