(CN) – An Arizona man did not commit a crime when he mailed a manifesto detailing his plot to kill fans at the 2008 Super Bowl to various media outlets, a full panel of the 9th Circuit ruled Friday.
Distressed over a business failure in 2008, Kurt Havelock bought an AR-15 assault rifle and mailed his “fractured meditation on the purported evils of American society” to The New York Times, The Associated Press and others. The letters laid out his plan to shoot fans as they walked into the Glendale, Ariz., football stadium for Super Bowl XLII.
Havelock changed his mind in the parking lot, however, and admitted his plans to police.
Havelock was convicted for mailing threatening communications and sentenced to a year in prison plus additional time on probation, but the 9th Circuit reversed on appeal. The three-judge panel found that Havelock had not committed a crime because the manifesto had been addressed to corporations, not to specific people. After agreeing to convene a full, 11-judge panel to reconsider the issue, the San Francisco-based federal appeals court that panel upheld Havelock’s acquittal.
Titled “Karma Leveller: Bad Thoughts on a Beautiful Day,” the six-page “econo-political” manifesto “was, in equal parts, a fractured meditation on the purported evils of American society and a past-tense account of the experiences, beliefs, and convictions that set off his anticipated ‘econopolitical confrontation,'” according to the ruling.
“Punctuating the manifesto were references to the Founding Fathers (Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson), cultural icons (John Rambo, Mad Max, Bugs Bunny), musical groups (Pink Floyd, AC/DC, Bad Religion), video games (Donkey Kong, Grand Theft Auto, State of Emergency), literature (Alice in Wonderland, The Catcher in the Rye), and motion pictures (Road Warrior, Hostel, The Astronaut Farmer). (Parentheses in original.)
The document also contained explicit details about Havelock’s violent plans: “It will be swift and bloody. I will sacrifice your children upon the altar of your excess,” he wrote. “I will slay your children. I will shed the blood of the innocent.”
A majority of judges found Friday that such statements could not have violated the statute on which Havelock was convicted because he had not addressed them to a specific person.
“Even looking to the contents of the manifesto, it indicates nothing at all about the identity of any individual ‘person’ to whom the communication supposedly was addressed,” Judge Betty Fletcher wrote for the majority. “A few of Havelock’s statements appeared to be addressed to whoever happened to read them: e.g., ‘I will slay your children.’ It is impossible to determine (and is highly unlikely) that Havelock, in the quoted phrase, was addressing any particular person whose children he was going to slay On this record, we conclude that a reasonable jury could not have found that Havelock’s writings were addressed to a natural person, as [the statute] requires.” (Parentheses in original; brackets added.)
Judges Raymond Fisher and Johnnie B. Rawlinson dissented, however, saying Havelock had intended for a group “made up of natural persons” to read his manifesto.
“Havelock mailed his manifesto to media outlets such as the New York Times, presumably for publication,” Fisher wrote. “Although neither the manifesto nor the threats it contains were directed at any specific person, Havelock plainly intended his manifesto to be read by the general public – which is made up of natural persons. Unlike the majority, I see no reason to preclude liability under [the statute] when a threatening communication is addressed to, and threatens mass murder against, a community rather than a specific individual.” (Brackets in original.)