Teen jailed for Facebook comments out on bail, thanks to anonymous donor

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
By Suzanne Choney

A 19-year-old in Texas is out of jail after spending five months there for comments he made on Facebook that were perceived by authorities to be a threat.

"We're really thrilled to have him back and out of jail," Jennifer Carter, the mother of Justin Carter, told TODAY Friday.

Justin Carter was released Thursday after an anonymous donor paid $50,000 in bond on Carter's $500,000 bail. It's an amount his attorney, Donald H. Flanary III said was unreasonable to begin with. "The only reason he had to stay in jail was because he was poor and couldn't afford a lawyer," Flanary told TODAY.

Carter had been represented by a court-appointed attorney. Flanary, of San Antonio, said he recently took the case pro bono because "I've never seen someone have such an unfair shake."

In February, two months after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., Carter was in an argument with that started on the League of Legends game website and continued onto Facebook, according to his mother. On Facebook, a person described Carter as "crazy and messed up in the head," she said on Change.org, where a petition seeking his release from jail was posted.

Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.

He reacted with what his attorney describes as a "sarcastic" comments about shooting up a kindergarten, although he then added remarks like "JK" ("just kidding") and "LOL" ("laughing out loud"). His comments were reported to police, who arrested him. Carter's mother said she fully understood the need for an investigation, but his being jailed for five months was unfair.

On Friday, out of jail, the youth told CNN he "certainly would have thought a lot more about what I said," and didn't realize how "you can get in trouble for something that you should not get in trouble for."

Carter is charged with making a terroristic threat, and could face between 2 and 10 years in prison if he is convicted. Attorney Flanary told TODAY that while in jail, Carter had been offered a plea agreement to serve eight years in prison, which he turned down.

The next step is a pre-trial hearing, set for Aug. 12. Flanary is hoping to have the case dismissed, saying Carter's prosecution "violates the First Amendment," as well as the state's terrorist threat statute, and that Carter "didn't threaten anyone; it was a sarcastic statement."

"The charge he's charged with requires that you make a threat that puts the public in fear, and he wasn't talking to the public, he was talking to the people who called him names," Flanary told TODAY.

"It's clear that this was a crude comment, an off-color comment, but he should have been let go immediately," Flanary said. "It was no different than two kids calling each other names on a playground. While it was distasteful, it was not a threat."

The Comal County District Attorney's office, which is prosecuting Carter, was contacted for comment by TODAY, but recently said in a statement it will not talk about the case until it "is closed."

Meanwhile, Jennifer Carter is spending time with her son, and told TODAY that "the support we've received from everyone — not only from the donor — has been amazing and overwhelming and we're very grateful."

Check out Technology and TODAYTech on Facebook, and on Twitter, follow Suzanne Choney.