When Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District police found Tony Warner's name written next to a question mark on a note card titled "Murder Incorporated," that's when his senior year at Cypress Ridge High School came to an end.
Warner's attorney says that on the note card was a plan written by 17-year-old Seth Phillips that detailed how he, along with Warner and one other potential participant, would take knives to school and kill fellow students, and how they would escape. After police found the note, they knocked on Warner's door next, confiscating his phone, laptop and a number of knives. Warner admitted to police that he knew about those note cards and that Phillips had told him about the plot, which, according to a spokesman with the Harris County District Attorney's Office, weighed heavily in prosecutors' decision to charge him with conspiracy to commit murder.
Castro says his client never told authorities about the plan because he thought it was a joke. Warner now faces up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted of plotting to murder students at his high school. While Castro commended the police for reacting quickly to the plot (police had received a tip from a high school girl who overheard Phillips talking about the plan), he said that, for his client, this may be a case where the line between vigilance and paranoia got blurred.
“It's a tricky line," he said. "Yes, in these times, a great deal of vigilance is required, both by law enforcement and the public. That's why we hire and train professionals to investigate and exercise their judgment whenever a possible threat to public safety is reported. But people also have to use their discretion in separating threats that are real from those that aren't.”
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Phillips's attorney, Murray Newman, declined to comment in detail about the case, but maintained that his client never intended to carry out the plan. Castro, meanwhile, described Phillips’s note cards as “ramblings of an adolescent mind," and said the knives found in Warner's room weren't connected to whatever Phillips had written. The 17-year-old owned knives he bought with his dad at a Renaissance fair. Police also seized folding knives Warner's mom had helped him buy on Amazon, a broadsword that came with a video game, and boxcutters that he used at work. “It seemed like [the police] interpreted everything that they possibly could in a way that suited their narrative," Castro said.
Cypress-Fairbanks ISD police, who led the investigation and arrested both high schoolers, could not be reached for comment.
Warner, a former tuba player in the high school band, is now wearing an ankle monitor, which costs his parents about $300 a month. He was forced to withdraw from school just as he was looking for colleges. He is allowed to leave his home only to meet with Castro or the probation department. He must submit to random drug and alcohol testing, and pay $40 a month for probation costs. His parents also paid $1,000 to bail him out, and paid to hire Castro.
Castro says he plans to present the case to a grand jury, which he expects will dismiss the case against Warner.