Jailed Facebook Texas teen finally getting day in court

CNN
Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - 9:58am

A Texas teen who's been jailed more than four months for a Facebook comment he made during a video-game argument is finally getting a day in court that could let him go home.

Justin Carter, who was 18 when he was arrested, will appear in Comal County (Texas) District Court on Tuesday, July 16, for a bond hearing, according to his lawyer, Don Flanary.

Flanary told CNN he will argue to have Carter's $500,000 bond, which his family cannot afford to cover, reduced.

Flanary, who is working the case for free, met with Carter for the first time on Tuesday. He said Carter is not doing well, and his family says he has been placed on suicide watch.

"Justin is in bad shape and has suffered quite a bit of abuse while in jail," Flanary said in an e-mail. "We will likely bring out these issues at the bond hearing."

He did not elaborate on the type of abuse claimed by Carter, who is now 19.

In February, Carter and a friend were arguing on Facebook with someone else over the online video game "League of Legends."

His father told CNN that the other gamer called Justin crazy and his son responded with sarcasm.

According to court documents, Justin wrote, "I'm f***ed in the head alright. I think I'ma (sic) shoot up a kindergarten and watch the blood of the innocent rain down and eat the beating heart of one of them."

Jack Carter said his son followed the claim with "LOL" and "J/K" -- indicating that the comment wasn't serious.

Authorities say someone reported the comment -- which came about two months after the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut -- and Justin Carter was arrested February 21 on a charge of making terroristic threats. In Texas, that's a felony that carries a sentence of up to eight years in prison.

Police originally thought Carter lived with his father in Austin, Texas, at a home the arrest report says is 100 yards from a school. They later learned he was living in New Braunfels, between Austin and San Antonio.

The Austin Police Department declined to provide CNN with additional documents related to the case. The Comal County District Attorney's office, which is prosecuting the case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Carter's case has stirred support online.

A Change.org petition by his mother, calling for his release, had received more than 43,000 digital signatures as of Wednesday morning.

"Justin's a good kid," Jennifer Carter wrote on the petition. "He wouldn't hurt anyone, let alone a child."

She wrote that he has been "assaulted a number of times" in jail and that no weapons were found during a search of his home.

The American Civil Liberties Union tells CNN it is monitoring the case.

"We are all concerned about safety in our schools, but that's not what is at issue here," said Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas. "The First Amendment protects a person's speech -- even speech that is in poor taste -- as long as it is not a true threat.

"Justin's online comment might have been distasteful and thoughtless. But, if the facts as reported are true, his comment is an objectionable joke rather than an actual threat, in which case the Comal County District Attorney is prosecuting protected speech. That's a dangerous precedent."

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