DENVER (CN) — A former University of California, Los Angeles, philosophy lecturer accused of circulating an 802-page manifesto pledging mass violence pleaded not guilty to federal charges at the Alfred A. Arraj U.S. Courthouse in Denver on Wednesday.
Matthew Harris, 31, faces two counts of threats in interstate commerce, each carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted. Harris also faces one count each of making a false statement to a firearms dealer and wrongfully possessing ammunition, both punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.
According to federal prosecutors, in January 2021 Harris sent his mother an email titled “Plans to murder Katherine Ritchie in September when UC Irvine reopens with a MP5 for giving me schizophrenia,” according to an affidavit by FBI special agent Stephanie Benitez. Ritchie is a philosophy professor at the University of California, Irvine.
Following several other emails over the next few months, Harris’ mother informed the UCLA philosophy department that her son was mentally ill. In April 2021, the UCLA police department issued a threat warrant for Harris. He was detained in North Carolina and hospitalized for one month.
In June 2021, a restraining order was filed against Harris banning him from California college campuses and from possessing weapons for three years. He moved to Boulder, Colorado, that summer. That November, prosecutors say, he obtained a Colorado state driver’s license and attempted to buy a “bodyguard revolver” at the Silver Bullet Shooting Range in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.
The purchase was denied.
On Jan. 31, Harris allegedly shared a Google drive link to an 803-page manifesto titled “Death Sentences,” with 35 individuals named. Throughout the manifesto, Harris made a variety of threats, employing the word "kill" 7,512 times, "shoot" 2,512 times, and "bomb" 2,489 times.
The manifesto expressed an infatuation with a woman named Sandra and with JonBenet Ramsey, the 6-year-old youth beauty pageant queen who murdered in her family's mansion in 1996.
Prosecutors say Harris posted a video titled “UCLA Philosophy (Mass Shooting)” to his YouTube channel, which according to the FBI affidavit “depicts Harris talking with images from the 2003 movie 'Zero Day,' which depicts a movie version of the surveillance cameras at the Columbine school shooting.”
The Boulder Police Department arrested Harris on Feb. 1 and found him in possession of a box of .38 ammunition.
U.S. attorneys Alison Connaughty and Julia Martinez are prosecuting the case. Harris — who remains in custody — is represented by Torrance, California-based attorney Edward Robinson.
U.S. District Judge Regina Rodriguez, a Joe Biden appointee, will oversee the trial, likely to be held in the spring.
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