Monday, November 12, 2007

WAINWRIGHT: FINALLY, A DAY IN COURT


Yuri Wainwright's trial is scheduled for November 28, 2007. That's over 7 months since he was arrested and held on $1 million bond. He was originally charged with violating the Anti-Free Speech Act of 2003, otherwise known as 97-45-17 of the Mississippi Code, which criminalizes "posting of messages" through any medium "for the purpose" of causing "injury" to "any person."

I have questioned Wainwright's detention from day one, for one big reason--the authorities would never tell us specifically what Wainwright wrote that could be construed as being "for the purpose of causing injury to any person." They did tell us that he was an atheist and that they found guns at his grandmother's house, where he lived. But to this day, the general public has never been told what Wainwright said that was so criminal that he had to be arrested exactly in the middle of the week that began with the Virginia Tech shootings and ended with the anniversary of the Columbine killings and then held on a $1 million bond.

I have never said that Wainwright did not commit a crime. I don't know if he did or didn't. I'm just saying that it strikes me as very odd that the authorities felt no responsibility to let the public know exactly what Wainwright said. After all, in a case that is similar to Wainwright's in many respects--that of Tosin Oduwole--the police quoted from his alleged writings immediately, as I've discussed elsewhere. Oduwole supposedly wrote that there was going to be a horrific act of violence on a college campus if money wasn't deposited in his PayPal account. Unlike Wainwright, Oduwole had also allegedly tried to (or actually did) purchase semiautomatic weapons online and had a gun in his dorm room.

Why wouldn't/won't they tell us?


Why would our public servants not tell us what Wainwright said? After all, if people are going to be thrown in jail because they wrote something, the public has the right to know what words were used--we have the right to know whether our First Amendment freedoms are being protected or not. I have feared from the beginning of this case that Wainwright's treatment suggests that the First Amendment is being trampled--it's the mood of the whole country, it seems.

Somewhere along the way, a charge of cyber-stalking was added to Wainwright's case. The Hattiesburg American has been apparently combining the two offenses in their descriptions of the charges, saying Wainwright is being tried for "cyber-stalking through electronic media." That is of course a redundant charge, as cyber-stalking cannot take place except through electronic media.

Cyber-stalking is a completely different charge--the law specifies that a threat must be issued, the victim must reasonably fear for his safety, and the accused must have had the apparent ability to carry out the threat. In fact, when the authorities were quoted in articles about the Wainwright case, they always seemed to be describing cyber-stalking even though Wainwright was originally charged with violating the "posting of messages" statute, which in the law is obviously separate and distinct from cyber-stalking.

I should point out that the "posting" law (97-45-17)does not mention a "threat." Rather, it forbids the purposeful causing of "injury," without defining what "injury" means for the purposes of the statute.

So I'm not sure what happened along the way. When the Hattiesburg American says Wainwright is accused of "cyber-stalking through electronic media," I can't tell if they're quoting the authorities verbatim or if that's the American's interpretation of what the authorities say.

At any rate, I hope Wainwright gets a fair trial and that the First Amendment rights of Wainwright as well as the public at large are protected.

Here's the text of the Hattiesburg American story, reprinted here without permission (I'll remove it if asked) because their stories are deleted after some indeterminate amount of time:



Court date set in Internet threats case
By TERRY L. JONES

A University of Southern Mississippi student charged with posting threats on the Internet may finally get his day in the Forrest County Circuit Court.

The court date for Yuri Wainwright, 26, is set for Nov. 28, according to court documents.

Wainwright was arrested in April, just days following the shootings at Virginia Tech, for allegedly posting threats on the popular social networking Web site MySpace.com.

Since his arrest, Wainwright has been held in the Lamar County Jail on a $1 million bond.

Wainwright was indicted on charges of cyber-stalking through electronic media in September. He pleaded innocent following his arrest.

Very little information has been released regarding exactly what kinds of threats Wainwright posted on his blog.

Jackson attorney Jim Kitchens is representing Wainwright now, court documents say. He was previously being represented by Hattiesburg attorney Maura McLaughlin.

Kitchens did not return calls seeking comment.

Court officials said the Nov. 28 date does not ensure Wainwright will stand trial then. District Attorney Jon Mark Weathers said Wainwright's case is just one of 12 on the court docket for that day.

If convicted Wainwright could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison and fined $10,000.

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