The Texas teen facing a felony terrorism charge over an alleged threat on Facebook has been released on bail after an anonymous donor posted a $500,000 bond.
Justin Carter, 19, had spent five months in prison for posting, during an argument about a video game, what he said was a sarcastic comment about how he was going to “shoot up a kindergarten.”
“I just think it got taken out of context, and it’s been blown out of proportion,” Carter told Kate Bolduan on “New Day,” CNN’s morning show. The brief interview marked Carter’s first public comments since he was jailed in February.
Carter’s case has received widespread media attention and alarmed free-speech activists. His arrest came amid heightened concerns over school violence since December’s mass shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
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 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.
“Any clear reading and full reading of the context of that statement would make it obvious that this was just a sarcastic joke,” Chad Van Brunt, one of Carter’s attorneys, told CNN on Friday. “If we get to trial … it’s just going to be abundantly clear, if it’s not already.”
Authorities said someone reported the comment — which came about two months after the mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School — leading to Carter’s arrest February 21 on a felony charge of making terroristic threats. In Texas, that carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
The teen had remained in jail because Jack Carter and his wife, Jennifer, said they couldn’t afford to post the bond required to free their son. The family’s attorney, Don Flanary, told CNN that Justin Carter had suffered abuse while behind bars, and his parents had expressed concerns about his safety.
Carter was released Thursday to his home near New Braunfels, Texas, after an unnamed donor came forward and posted the bond, Flanary said. He said the donor wishes to remain anonymous.
“For now I’m over-the-moon happy. I just want to spend all my time talking to him and looking at him,” mother Jennifer Carter told CNN on Friday. “There’s been a lot of hugs going around and crying. We don’t have to worry anymore about him being hurt (in jail) … and for any parent that’s just such a relief.”
An online petition seeking Justin Carter’s release from jail had received more than 126,000 signatures.
A pretrial hearing for Carter is scheduled August 12. Flanary told CNN he will be filing a motion to dismiss the charges because they violate Carter’s First Amendment rights.
The Comal County district attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the case, has not responded to CNN’s requests for comment.
The case is viewed by some as a cautionary tale about the repercussions of controversial statements posted online.
Asked by CNN’s Bolduan what he might have done differently, Carter said, “I certainly would have thought a lot more about what I said and how permanent my writing — and everyone’s writing — is (on the Internet). People should be very, very careful of what they say. It’s being recorded all the time, if you say it on any website, anywhere.
“And you can get in trouble for something that’s not something you should get in trouble for. I just want people to be warned.”