A high school student who was adjudicated as a delinquent after he sent Facebook messages about a plan to attack his school had one of his adjudications reversed after a divided Indiana Court of Appeals found insufficient evidence for a true finding of attempted aggravated battery.
In the fall of 2015, Seymour High School students B.T.E. and M.V. began planning an attack on the school on April 20, 2018, specifically targeting two of their peers, J.R. and G.M. The two students frequently discussed their plans via Facebook, and B.T.E. drew a diagram of one of his classrooms, specifically pointing out J.R.’s seat.
In one of the Facebook messages, B.T.E. indicated his anger toward J.R. was driven by the fact that J.R. was possible going to date G.M., whom B.T.E. had a crush on. M.V. provided guidance on how B.T.E. should execute the murders, while B.T.E. told M.V. that he had learned how to make pipe bombs.
Then in January 2016, M.V. made a threat against the school to another student, who reported it to the school counselor. A police investigation then began, which led Seymour Police Department Officer Brian Williams to examine B.T.E.’s Facebook and discover that he had “liked” a page called “Columbine High School Massacre.”
Detective Crystal Schapson interviewed B.T.E., who claimed the allegations were a joke and became visibly upset. B.T.E. further said he was contemplating a career in architecture as an explanation for his diagrams of the school.
B.T.E. was then arrested and, on Jan. 26, 2016, was alleged to be a delinquent child for crimes which if committed by an adult would be attempted murder and attempted aggravated battery. The delinquency petition was approved and an amendment was later filed to add the acts of conspiracy to commit murder and aggravated battery, conspiracy to possess a firearm on school property and attempted dangerous possession of a firearm.
After B.T.E. was released to home detention, a fact-finding hearing was held on April 27, 2016, and the Jackson Superior Court agreed to continue the hearing “on the issue of admission of Facebook records as business records.” B.T.E. then filed a motion to dismiss, which was denied.
At a later hearing, the state offered Facebook messages exchanged between B.T.E. and another individual, D.H., in which B.T.E. encouraged a suicidal D.H. to “kill others before yourself.” B.T.E. objected, and the court admitted the exhibits as to the attempt charges, but not the conspiracy charges.
The court then entered true findings only for conspiracy to commit aggravated battery and attempted aggravated battery. He was sentenced to probation until his 18th birthday, with a suspended commitment to the Indiana Department of Correction.
B.T.E. appealed in B.T.E. v. State of Indiana, 36A05-1607-JV-1702, arguing first that the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss. Specifically, he argued the delinquency petition was filed on Jan. 26, 2016, but the fact-finding hearing did not commence until more than 90 days after the initial filing and was eventually continued, so the state did not bring him to hearing in a timely manner.
But pointing to its recent decision in K.G. v. State, 67 N.E.3d 1147 (Ind. Ct. App. 2017), the Indiana Court of Appeals held Wednesday that the trial court did not err in denying B.T.E.’s motion to dismiss. In K.G., the court determined that juvenile petitions are subject to dismissal for untimeliness only if the amount of time from the petition to a hearing is greater than one year.
B.T.E. then argued the evidence was insufficient to support the true findings against him, which led to a split Court of Appeals.
First, Judge Elaine Brown wrote for the majority that B.T.E.’s alleged conduct – including drawing diagrams, sending Facebook messages and soliciting assistance from D.H. – did not constitute a substantial step toward attempted aggravated battery, as those actions did not go beyond mere preparation. Thus, the true finding on that count was erroneous and must be reversed.
But in a separate opinion, Judge Cale Bradford wrote “the record contains sufficient evidence to sustain a finding that B.T.E. took a substantial step toward committing aggravated battery.”
“The preparation of maps of the anticipated scene of the Columbine-style attack on J.R. are ‘overt acts’ that, moreover, indicated that B.T.E. also acted overly in evaluating the scene,” Bradford wrote. “…Finally, I would have little trouble affirming a finding that B.T.E.’s conduct is strongly corroborative of his frequently-stated intent to do J.R. harm.”
However, Bradford agreed with the panel that there was substantial evidence to prove B.T.E. and M.V. formed an agreement to inflict injury on J.R., thus supporting the true finding of conspiracy to commit aggravated battery. He also agreed with the panel on the issue of the denial of B.T.E.’s motion to dismiss.