SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – A flaw in the law. That’s how a Utah prosecutor explains how a Colorado man with a history of threatening violence against women gets off with probation, after threatening an act of terrorism in Utah.
It was last January when police in Provo thought they might have the makings of a mass shooting on their hands. A 27-year-old man, Christopher Wayne Cleary, had driven from Denver last January, just in time for the Women’s March happening in Utah County, and other cities across America.
Police say they knew of his intentions based on an announced he made on his Facebook page.
“I’ve never had a girlfriend before and I’m still a virgin,” he wrote, in a rambling post last January. “This is why I’m planning on shooting up a public place soon and being the next mass shooter cause I’m ready to die and all the girls the turned me down is going to make it right by killing as many girls as I see.”
Colorado authorities had been monitoring Cleary’s social media. Officials immediately alerted local police, who moved in a made the arrest.
The charge – terrorism, that carried a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. But a new prosecutor picked up the case, and after considerable deliberation, offered Cleary a plea deal, to a lesser charge – attempting to threaten an act of terrorism, which only carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Then the prosecutor recommended probation.
ABC4.com went to that prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Douglas Finch, to ask why.
“Our biggest factor,” Finch explained, “is what our likelihood of getting a conviction would be.”
Finch said the likelihood the court would convict Cleary of the greater charge was slim. The crime, he explained, fell somewhere between the two charges in Utah statute. Finch described the discrepancy as a gap in the law.
“And that gap is a second-degree felony for terrorism,” he said, “and then a terroristic threat is only down to a class B misdemeanor.”
Finch explained that employed a strategy, based on the knowledge that Cleary had a criminal record in his home state of Colorado, and was already serving three years probation for a conviction on a similar crime.
Pulling off a plea deal, Finch said, effectively put Cleary in violation of his probation, and would enable the Colorado court to send the repeat offender to prison.
With a legal maneuver that looked like the prosecutor was going soft on a serial stalker and would-be terrorist, Finch accomplished his mission.
“That’s it,” he told ABC4.com, “and the community here definitely is going to be protected.”
UPDATE: Clearly was sentenced to 0-5 years in prison Thursday. The court recommended 124 days credit for time served.