The family of Justin Carter, the 19-year-old Texas gamer who made offensive Facebook comments that landed him in jail, is working with new urgency to get his $500,000 bail reduced because they say he's getting beat up behind bars.
"Without getting into the really nasty details, he's had concussions, black eyes, moved four times from base for his own protection," says Carter's father, Jack. "He's been put in solitary confinement, nude, for days on end because he's depressed. All of this is extremely traumatic to this kid. This is a horrible experience."
Carter has been in jail since his arrest in February. After he finished playing the online game League of Legends, where the community trash-talking can get quite toxic, court documents show he posted the following messages on a Facebook page:
"I think Ima shoot up a kindergarten / And watch the blood of the innocent rain down/ And eat the beating heart of one of them."
Carter's father says his son was responding to an insult by being sarcastic and followed the message with "JK" for just kidding, but that's disputed by police.
In April, a grand jury in Comal County, Texas, indicted Carter on a charge of making a terroristic threat, and a judge set bail at $500,000. The high bail has kept Carter imprisoned while his case moves through the court process.
"I have been practicing law for 10 years, I've represented murderers, terrorists, rapists. Anything you can think of. I have never seen a bond at $500,000," says Carter's attorney, Don Flanary.
The charge is a third-degree felony, which in Texas carries up to 10 years in prison. The Comal County District Attorney's office hasn't responded to our calls, but police in New Braunfels, Texas, who have investigated the case, say in a time of heightened sensitivity to school shootings, their interest is in preventing violence when they can.
"The whole situation is kind of unfortunate," said New Braunfels Police Lt. John Wells. "We definitely understand the situation that Mr. Carter is in, however he made the comments, and it is an offense. We have to ... protect the general public and specifically, in this case, with it involving schoolchildren, we have to act. We take those very seriously."
Carter's father says his son's past five months of "suffering quite a bit of abuse" behind bars doesn't fit the crime. "He says he's really sorry. He just got caught up in the moment of the game and didn't think about the implications," Jack Carter says.
An Change.org online petition for Justin Carter's release has gotten nearly 40,000 signatures, and attorney Flanary got a new hearing set for July 16 to bring up issues of his abuse and to try to get bond lowered so Carter can go home to await trial.
If convicted, Carter could face up to 10 years in prison.
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In this day of social media, what you put on sites like Facebook is out there for the world to see. A powerful reminder of that: 19-year-old Justin Carter who's in jail in Texas after posting a comment about a school shooting. Nearly 40,000 people have signed a petition calling for his release.
NPR's Elise Hu reports.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEOGAME MUSIC, LEAGUE OF LEGENDS)
ELISE HU, BYLINE: In the multi-player online game "League of Legends," the worlds are make-believe but the competition is fierce. Online taunting in the game can get toxic.
JACK CARTER: It's very competitive. Emotions get high.
HU: Jack Carter is Justin's dad.
CARTER: Children, and they're unmonitored, so you just have this entire subculture of people saying the worst, most nasty things to each other online. But it's taken in the context that it's a game and it's for fun.
HU: Justin Carter's "League of Legends"-related trash-talking left the confines of the game in February. He posted something on Facebook that was seen by a larger community.
CARTER: I don't remember the exact quote but something to the effect of: I'm crazy, I think I'm going to shoot up a school full of kids and eat their still-beating hearts.
HU: That obviously is chilling.
CARTER: It's incredibly inappropriate when you take it out of context, for sure.
HU: Carter says his son followed that Facebook message with LOL and JK, Just Kidding.
CARTER: It was a sarcastic remark in response to an insult. He says he's really sorry. He just totally got caught up in the moment of the argument and didn't really think about the implications.
HU: Someone saw his comment and called in a tip to police. Detectives searched his home, seized his computer and arrested Carter in February. A grand jury indicted him on a terroristic threat charge in April. Today, he remains in the Comal County jail in Central Texas.
LIEUTENANT JOHN WELLS: The whole situation is kind of, you know, unfortunate.
HU: New Braunfels, Texas police Lieutenant John Wells says the case is now in the hands of the district attorney, who hasn't returned our calls.
WELLS: We definitely understand the situation that Mr. Carter is in. However, you know, he made the comments and it is an offense. And, like I said, we have to look into as the police department to protect the general public. And, specifically in this case, with it involving school children, we have to act. We take those very seriously.
HU: Carter has yet to get a trial date. But he can't get out of jail because after the indictment a judge set his bail at half a million dollars. A stunning amount, says Carter's attorney, Don Flannery.
DON FLANNERY: I have been practicing law for 10 years. I've represented murderers, terrorists, rapists. Anything you can think of. I've never seen a bond at $500,000.
HU: Carter spent his 19th birthday behind bars where life includes getting beat up, according to his dad.
CARTER: This is his first incarceration, his first charge. And I mean, without getting into the really nasty details, he's had concussions, he's had black eyes. He's been moved at four times from base for his own protection. He's been put in solitary confinement, nude, for days on end because he's depressed. All of this is extremely traumatic to this kid. This is a horrible experience.
HU: His attorney is hoping to get bail reduced this month so Carter can get out to await trial. His dad is singularly focused on the effort.
CARTER: I miss my son, he's my friend and I just want him out. Nobody's life should be ruined because of a sarcastic comment.
(SOUNDBITE OF WEEPING)
HU: A painful reminder of how online comments can have real-life consequences.
Elise Hu, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.