NORTH CAROLINA — The state court of appeals dismisseda case Tuesday involving a high school student who was chargedwith communicating threats for typing a message on school computerscreens.
Joshua Mortimer was convicted by a jury in 1999 of communicatingthreats after he typed "the end is near" on two computerscreens at Hoggard High School in Wilmington, shortly after theColumbine High School shooting in which two students killed 12fellow students, a teacher and themselves.
He received a 45-day suspended sentence, 18 months of probationand was ordered to perform 48 hours of community service.
Mortimer appealed the conviction, and a three-judge panel ruledunanimously that there was not sufficient evidence to convicthim of the charges.
"The meaning of the statement ‘the end is near’ is impossibleto ascertain," Judge Hudson said in the opinion. "Giventhe context in which the statement was written — Hoggard HighSchool was in a state of fear over the tragedy at Columbine andlocal rumors of bomb threats — one possible interpretation of’the end is near’ is that the writer intended to bomb the school.However, the leap to such a conclusion beyond a reasonable doubtis extremely speculative and, we think, not a reasonable inference."
Hudson added that Mortimer’s statement did not specify "what,if anything" he intended to do.
"We feel it was the right decision," Mortimer’s attorney,Sofie Hosford said. "It should have been made a long timeago."
Hosford added, "It’s been almost two years since the wholething started. It’s good to see the judge finally decided to dothe right thing."
Mortimer, a 17-year-old at the time, claimed he wrote the statementas a joke referring to the rumor that the end of the world wouldbe in 2000. In addition to being criminally charged, he was expelledfrom school.
In spite of the ruling, Mortimer will not be allowed to returnto school. He is currently enrolled in a General EquivalencyDiploma program at a local community college.
"That’s probably the best route for him at this point,"Hosford said.
The Court of Appeals decision is availble online at: http://www.aoc.state.nc.us/www/public/coa/opinions/2001/000131-1.htm
ZeroTolerance: In reaction to violence, schools are cracking downon student speech, Winter 1999-2000 Report