An Arizona man who plotted to randomly kill football fans at the 2008 Super Bowl but changed his mind after arriving at the stadium with an assault rifle and 200 rounds of ammunition had his conviction overturned Monday by a federal appeals court panel.
The 2-1 decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said Kurt William Havelock wasn't guilty of mailing threatening communications to any individual person, as the law requires, because his lengthy rant about what drove him to plot a massacre was addressed to media organizations.
The ruling disclosed Havelock's detailed plans to shoot arriving spectators to express outrage at having been denied a liquor license to open a horror-themed bar in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe — a massacre apparently averted only because Havelock had a last-minute change of heart.
Havelock, then 35, was charged with six counts of mailing threatening communications to a person. Just before he drove to a parking lot at the University of Phoenix stadium half an hour before the Super Bowl kickoff, Havelock had stopped at a nearby post office to drop off Priority Mail envelopes containing a rambling "manifesto" and other documents addressed to six media organizations, including the Los Angeles Times.
"It will be swift and bloody. I will sacrifice your children upon the altar of your excess," Havelock wrote in the manifesto he had expected to be read after he carried out his attack and been killed himself in an act of "suicide by cops."
"I will not be bullied by the financial institutions and their puppet politicians," Havelock wrote in explaining his planned "econopolitical confrontation."
But as he sat in his car waiting for football fans to arrive at the Glendale, Ariz., stadium, he told police later, a sense of "numbness" overcame him, and he changed his mind about the attack. He called his parents and fiancee, who talked him into turning himself in to authorities.
The mailed documents formed the basis of the criminal indictment brought against Havelock, who was convicted by a jury and sentenced to a year and a day in prison and three years of supervised release.
In the opinion written by Senior Judge William C. Canby and joined by Senior Judge Betty Binns Fletcher, both appointees of President Carter, the majority said the trial court erred in allowing jurors to consider the information contained in the mailings to decide whether individuals had been threatened, as opposed to the media corporations to whom the mailings were sent.
"It makes no sense to threaten 'to injure the person' of a corporation," the majority said of the mailings to four newspapers and two music-media websites. The judges deemed the indictment flawed and said Havelock's conviction had to be reversed.
Judge Susan P. Graber, named to the appeals court by President Clinton, dissented. She said the majority's interpretation of the law would prohibit sending threatening messages via the mail "only if the outside of the envelope or package explicitly directs delivery to a natural person."
Assistant U.S. Atty. Michael T. Morrissey did not return phone calls from The Times to say whether new federal charges would be brought against Havelock.
The plotter's federal public defender, Daniel L. Kaplan, said he hoped the appeals panel decision would be the end of the case against his client, who is now out of prison.
"He was prosecuted and has served the complete prison sentence given to him, and I think he wants to move on with his life," Kaplan said.