A Jackson County teenager who plotted a school shooting with a classmate will retain his delinquency adjudication after the Indiana Court of Appeals found Thursday that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting Facebook conversations detailing the shooting plans.
In M.T. V. v. State of Indiana
, 36A05-1607-JV-1681, M.T.V. was sitting at a table in the Seymour High School cafeteria in January 2016 when he stated that he and another student, B.E., were going to bring guns to the school on April 20, 2018, the same date as the Columbine shooting. M.T.V. then said that he and B.E. had a list of classmates they would shoot and that J.R., another student, was first on the list.
Another student sitting at the table reported M.T.V.’s comment to school counselors and an investigation ensued. During the investigation, the Seymour Police Department obtained Facebook conversations between M.T.V. and B.E. The state filed a delinquency petition, alleging that M.T.V. committed an act that, if committed by an adult, would be conspiracy to commit murder. The petition was then amended to add allegations of conspiracy to commit aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit possession of firearm on school property.
During a fact-finding hearing in May, the state attempted to admit the Facebook conversations into evidence, but M.T.V. objected, arguing that the records were not properly authenticated and that the conversations contained inadmissible hearsay. However, the Jackson Superior Court allowed the state to admit the conversations and entered a finding for only the conspiracy to commit aggravated battery allegation.
M.T.V. appealed, again arguing that the Facebook conversations should not have been admitted as evidence. But Judge L. Mark Bailey, writing for a unanimous panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals, pointed out that M.T.V. admitted to law enforcement that he had engaged in conversations with B.E. about shooting up the school on April 20, 2018, and the Facebook records introduced at the hearing contained the content M.T.V. told law enforcement they would find.
Further, Bailey wrote that the records were supported by an affidavit from Facebook’s authorized records custodian, Kelsey McIntosh, who testified that the records were made and kept by Facebook’s automated systems at or near the time the Facebook user transmitted the information. Thus, Bailey wrote, the records were authenticated.
Further, the appellate court found that the Facebook records and B.E.’s statements did not constitute hearsay because the independent evidence was sufficient to establish the existence of a conspiracy between M.T.V. and B.E. for purposes of hearsay exceptions under Evidence Rule 801(d).
Finally, Bailey wrote that there was substantial evidence of probative value to determine that M.T.V. and B.E. formed an agreement to inflict injury that could cause death to J.R. during a shooting on April 20, 2018.
For example, B.E. had drawn maps of the school classrooms and had put the letter X over J.R.’s assigned seat in one class. Additionally, the students’ conversation at the lunch table indicated that J.R. was targeted because B.E. had a “true disliking for him,” and their conversations on Facebook discussed plans to use weaponry to harm J.R. in particular.