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Ohio Supreme Court Asked To Weigh ‘Speculative’ Terrorist Threat
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Threats in the workplace, in schools, and in public places are taken very seriously, and those who make them face serious criminal penalties. But one man in prison is appealing to the Ohio Supreme Court, saying he was unfairly convicted of violating the stateâ€™s terrorist threat law.
David Laber of Ironton in southern Ohio was sentenced to three years in prison in 2012 for what are described as â€œbizarre, speculative thoughtsâ€ which he shared with a co-worker, in which he wondered what it would be like to shoot two officials at the company and talked about bringing bombs into the facility where they worked. Those comments led to a company-wide lockdown and Laberâ€™s dismissal, as well as his conviction for making terrorist threats.
But Laberâ€™s lawyer Peter Galyardt told the justices that his client merely speculated about doing these things, but never intended to do them.
â€œHeâ€™s only expressing wondering what it would be like and then he provides admittedly alarming, disturbing details within this cordial give-and-take. Nonetheless, the expression of wonder alone is not threatening, and it does not demonstrate the specific intent to intimidate,â€ says Galyardt.
So Galyardt said it was ok for his co-worker and bosses to be scared and for him to be fired, but not for a jury to send him to prison. And he wants the terrorist threat law to be more clear.
â€œWeâ€™re asking this court to set parameters on the types of evidence that constitute the specific intent to intimidate or coerce. This court has done so at least three times in the last four or five years,â€ says Galyardt.
But the stateâ€™s Jeffrey Jarosch said the co-worker testified that she felt Laberâ€™s statements about bombs in the office and shooting company leaders went beyond just speculation and demonstrated an intent to actually do them.
â€œShe spoke about the look in his eye, the way he spoke, his standing position as he said these things to her. She also said that in her opinion, he had a violent intent. All of these things are pieces of evidence that the jury was presented with,â€ says Jarosch.
And Jarosch said the jury made the right decision.
â€œWhether or not it was a threat, whether or not he intended it to be a threat, is a matter for the jury. The language is one piece of evidence, and itâ€™s a strong piece in this case regarding his intent,â€ adds Jarosch.
Laberâ€™s lawyer also says the stateâ€™s terrorist threat law allows the criminalization of mere speculative thoughts, which violates the First Amendment of the US Constitution. But the state counters that the case is about the weight of evidence in a trial and has nothing to do with free speech.