Threats in the workplace, in schools, and in public places are taken very seriously, and those who make them face serious criminal penalties. But one man in prison is appealing to the Ohio Supreme Court, saying he was unfairly convicted of violating the state’s terrorist threat law. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports.
David Laber of Ironton in southern Ohio was sentenced to three years in prison in 2012 for what are described as “bizarre, speculative thoughts” that he shared with a co-worker, in which he wondered what it would be like to shoot two officials at the company and talked about bringing bombs into the facility where they worked.
Those comments led to a company-wide lockdown and Laber’s dismissal, as well as his conviction for making terrorist threats. But Laber’s lawyer Peter Galyardt told the justices that his client merely speculated about doing these things, but never intended to do them.
“He’s only expressing wondering what it would be like and then he provides admittedly alarming, disturbing details within this cordial give-and-take," Galyardt said. "Nonetheless, the expression of wonder alone is not threatening, and it does not demonstrate the specific intent to intimidate.”
So Galyardt said it was OK for Laber's co-worker and bosses to be scared and for him to be fired, but not for a jury to send him to prison. Galyardt wants the terrorist threat law to be more clear.
“We’re asking this court to set parameters on the types of evidence that constitute the specific intent to intimidate or coerce," he said. "This court has done so at least three times in the last four or five years.”
But the state’s Jeffrey Jarosch said the co-worker testified that she felt Laber’s statements about bombs in the office and shooting company leaders went beyond just speculation and demonstrated an intent to actually do them.
“She spoke about the look in his eye, the way he spoke, his standing position as he said these things to her," Jarosch said. "She also said that in her opinion, he had a violent intent. All of these things are pieces of evidence that the jury was presented with.”
And Jarosch said the jury made the right decision.
“Whether or not it was a threat, whether or not he intended it to be a threat, is a matter for the jury," he said. "The language is one piece of evidence, and it’s a strong piece in this case regarding his intent.”
Laber’s lawyer also said the state’s terrorist threat law allows the criminalization of mere speculative thoughts, which violates the First Amendment of the Constitution. But the state counters that the case is about the weight of evidence in a trial and has nothing to do with free speech.