Court overturns student’s conviction for threat

NORTH CAROLINA — The worst is over for Joshua Mortimer.

In February, a state court of appeals overturned his 1999 convictionfor communicating threats. State v. Mortimer, 542 S.E.2d 330 (N.C.App.2001).

A jury had found Mortimer guilty of the crime for typing “the end isnear” on two computer screens at his high school shortly after the Columbineshooting, in which two students killed 12 other students, a teacher andthemselves.

Mortimer, a 17-year-old Hoggard High School student at the time, receiveda 45-day suspended sentence, 18 months of probation and was ordered toperform 48 hours of community service as punishment for his actions.

Mortimer, who was also expelled from school, appealed the conviction.A three-judge panel voted unanimously to dismiss the charges because ofa lack of evidence.

According to Judge Robin Hudson, the phrase “the end is near” does notspecify “what, if anything” Mortimer intended to do, which she said wasnecessary to uphold a communicating-threats conviction.

“The meaning of the statement ‘the end is near’ is impossible to ascertain,”Hudson said in the decision. “Given the context in which the statementwas written-Hoggard High School was in a state of fear over the tragedyat Columbine and local rumors of bomb threats-one possible interpretationof ‘the end is near’ is that the writer intended to bomb the school. However,the leap to such a conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt is extremely speculativeand, we think, not a reasonable inference.”

Mortimer claimed to have written the statement as a joke referring tothe year 2000 being the end of the world.

Sophie Hosford, Mortimer’s attorney, said she was happy with the ruling.

“We feel it was the right decision,” she said. “It should have beenmade a long time ago.”

Hosford added, “It’s been almost two years since the whole thing started.It’s good to see the judge finally decided to do the right thing.”

Mortimer is currently enrolled in a General Equivalency Diploma programat Cape Fear Community College.