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Court reverses conviction of man who made Super Bowl threats

By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — A federal appeals court Friday quashed the conviction of an Arizona man who plotted to randomly shoot football fans at the 2008 Super Bowl, saying the rambling manifesto he mailed to news media before aborting the attack didn’t violate the law against threatening actual people.

A full 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the statements mailed by Kurt Havelock to newspapers and websites in which he vowed revenge against “the baneful and ruinous ones” insufficient to constitute a specific threat.

In mailings to the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Phoenix New Times and The Associated Press, Havelock vowed “swift and bloody” revenge against those who had ruled against a liquor license for his planned horror-themed bar near Phoenix. “I will slay your children,” he warned.

He mailed the manifesto before he drove into the stadium parking lot on game day with an assault rifle and 200 rounds of ammunition. He expected to be killed by law enforcement, and for the missive explaining his motive to be read posthumously.

But as he sat in his car waiting for football fans to arrive at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., Havelock later told police, he changed his mind, called his parents and fiancee and turned himself in to authorities.

Havelock was convicted in 2008 in an Arizona federal court of violating a federal law prohibiting the mailing of communications “addressed to any other person” that threaten “the person of the addressee or of an other.” He was sentenced to a year and a day in prison, which he has already served, and three years of supervised release.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit ruled 2-1 in August 2010 to reverse his conviction, with the majority arguing that the angry missives that arrived at the news offices after the Super Bowl were addressed to corporations, not individuals.

A rehearing of the case in Pasadena, Calif., by 11 judges in June focused on the same contentious issues of whether Havelock’s menacing rants could constitute a genuine threat not targeted at actual people.

The 9th Circuit voted 9-2 to order Havelock’s acquittal, but some who supported the outcome took issue with the court’s ruling on whether threats needed to be addressed to people or whether courts could look beyond the addressee on the envelope to determine that human beings were threatened. Some concurred with the ruling’s outcome because, they said, the missive was not meant as a threat, but as a posthumous explanation.

Havelock’s public defender, Daniel L. Kaplan, pointed out that the issue of Havelock’s detention is moot but conceded that the government might appeal.

A spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office in Phoenix would say only that the government was “studying the opinion to review our options.”

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