This teen joked about shooting up his school. Should he be in jail?

Eighteen-year-old Sammie Chavez was sitting having lunch with his friends on December 12 last year when he told them he wanted their help to blow up their school, Bartlesville Senior High, in Oklahoma.

He told them he’d had the idea to make an announcement over the loudspeaker directing kids to the auditorium, then he’d chain the doors shut and started firing down from the balcony.

Word of his comments quickly spread and the next day a school mum phoned an assistant principal to report it. In the early hours of Friday morning, police were at his doorstep. Sammie was stunned when they announced he was under arrest – he insisted the conversation had been a joke.

Less than four hours later, a 20-year-old named Adam Lanza launched a gun rampage at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing 20 children and six adults – the second-worst school shooting in American history.

When Sammie learned about the Newtown massacre from a television in Washington County Detention Center, where he’d been taken after his arrest, he started crying so much that guards had to change the channel.

His fate was sealed.

“Hours after the bloodshed at a Connecticut school, police stopped what would have been a second mass school-shooting on Friday,” the New York Daily News reported, eager to share some good news amid the horror.

A year later Sammie is still behind bars. But should he be? Camille Dodero, at Gawker, has written an extensive piece questioning whether the teen should be in jail.

Her concerns:

  • The police searched for evidence of Sammie’s intentions and only found ancient semiautomatic utility rifle with its stock sawed down in his apartment. Sammie’s mum said he’d bought it for $15 from some guy named Devon, who’d sold it to him cheaply because the firing mechanism was broken. The search found no ammunition or any sign of explosives.
  • Ken Dossett, a local youth minister, saw Sammie two days after his arraignment and says: “As soon as he saw me, he just started crying: ‘I didn’t mean what I said.'”
  • Sammie had no funds to make bail and couldn’t even afford a lawyer. Eventually, he was assigned a public defender, James E. Conatser, an 86-year-old described by locals as being “in the early stages of dementia”.
  • His trial was ridiculously fast. At 9am on Monday, September 23, potential jurors were interviewed, by 3:37 p.m. the next day they’d reached a verdict.
  • At the trial, Sammie’s former friend Tyler White testified he was a “jokester” .
  • Camille writes that at the trial Sammie testified: “It was a joke in the sense that it wasn’t meant seriously.”  He also clarified his journals, saying: “It was just me being really angry and writing anything down that came into my head.” He described the evidence collected against him “an unfortunate coincidence.”
  • When Camille visited him in jail he told her what he’d said was “dumb” . “Anybody who knows me knows I’d never ever do that in a million years,” he added.
  • Sammie is the son of an alcoholic mother who says she has multiple personality disorder and once worked as a prostitute, he was molested by his step-brother and tried to overdose on pills when he was 11. He told Camille: “My whole life has been a bunch of things that could have been avoided but weren’t. Just a bunch of wrong decisions. And that’s all this was: another bad decision. I had a conversation with somebody I shouldn’t have had.”

Among the evidence police feel points to his intentions were diary entries including this one:

How many times must the “freaks,” “weirdos,” “punks,” and “geeks” shoot up a school, or bomb a building before they start leaving all of us alone and letting us express ourselves how we want without ridiculing or ostrecizing [sic] us. I’ve been brought to this point, this point of not feeling sympathy for those who die because most if not all of them deserve it…. Those who deserve to die, will be killed. Those who don’t yet know our cause will be forced to witness it….

Lieutenant Ickleberry, the officer who’d executed the search warrant on Sammie’s home, also testified that his school computer had logged searches on various weapons, Columbine, and Virginia Tech. He also demonstrated that the gun found at Sammie’s home was functional.

On Tuesday, November 12, Sammie was sentenced to 30 months in prison, a $5000 fine, and a year of follow-up supervision. He maintains: “I’ve done nothing. Yeah, I said something. I shouldn’t have said that, I’m sorry.”

What’s your verdict – did police lock up a potentially dangerous gunman? 

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