A federal appeals court said a Tempe man who planned a massacre at the 2008 Super Bowl in Glendale but changed his mind can't be charged with violating federal laws.
In a split decision Friday, the full 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said for Kurt William Havelock to be charged with mailing threatening communications he must have sent his letters to individuals. Instead, the court noted, he actually mailed his diatribe and the plans of what he intended to do to four media outlets and two Internet music sites.
But Judge Betty Fletcher, writing for the majority, pointed out that the law under which Havelock was charged makes it a felony to mail a communication "addressed to any other person and containing any threat to kidnap any person or threat to injure the person of the addressee or of another.'' And in this case, she said, the recipients were not "persons'' but corporations.
Fletcher said it is irrelevant that, in some circumstances, corporations have the same legal status as a person.
She pointed out that the law at issue is in the same section with various other offenses. These range from kidnapping threats to threats to the reputation of someone who is dead.
"These associations clearly require that 'person' mean a natural person,'' Fletcher wrote. "It simply makes no sense to threaten to kidnap a corporation, or injure 'the person' of a corporation, or talk about a deceased corporation.''
Judge Raymond Fisher, writing the dissent, said his colleagues were interpreting the law too narrowly.
"Although neither the manifesto nor the threats it contained were directed at any specific person, Havelock plainly intended his manifesto to be read by the general public -- which is made up of natural persons,'' Fisher wrote. He said there is no reason to exempt someone from criminal liability when a threat is addressed to and threatens mass murder against a community rather than a specific person.
"Here, Havelock threatened to 'slay your children, ' to 'sacrifice your children upon the altar of your excess'' and to "take as many of you with me as I can,' '' Fisher said.
According to court records and media reports, Havelock was angry about several things, including that the Tempe City Council had voted to recommend that he not be granted a liquor license.
On Super Bowl Sunday, he put his new assault rifle and several clips of ammunition in his car and drove to a post office, where he dropped the six envelopes into the "Priority Mail" slot.
But after driving to the University of Phoenix Stadium, he had a change of heart and called his father and turned himself in to Tempe police.
He was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison followed by three years' probation.
Aside from the threats, Fletcher said the manifesto was "in equal parts, a fractured meditation on the purported evils of American society and a past tense account of the experiences, beliefs, and convictions that set off his anticipated econopolitical confrontation.''