The Kentucky Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a prior conviction for a man found guilty of threatening to shoot up a high school while he was a student in Lexington.
Timothy Felker, 21, was found guilty in 2019 of second-degree terroristic threatening after he made threats to shoot up Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and shoot certain students, according to court records. Lexington police investigated tips submitted about Felker, who was 18 at the time, and subsequently found an AR-15 and military grade ammunition in his bedroom.
Felker was convicted by a jury after being charged in 2018 for the threats he made while he was a senior at the school. His trial lasted four days and featured fellow students who testified to Felker’s threats. He was sentenced to a year and a half in prison.
But he appealed the conviction, arguing that a number of reversible errors had been made in court. The appeals court issued a unanimous decision in disagreement with him.
Felker in his appeal said the jury should’ve been instructed that they had the option to convict him on lesser charges of third-degree terroristic threatening or harassment, according to court records.
Felker argued that the difference between second and third-degree terroristic threatening was whether or not the threatened action would take place at a school. His defense argued that because threats were made to shoot certain students, the jury could’ve believed that the threat wasn’t tied to the school.
Felker also argued that harassment could’ve been applied as a lesser charge because students who testified in his trial said they couldn’t tell if his threats were legitimate or just jokes, according to court records.
But the appeals court maintained that evidence presented at trial showed Felker threatened to shoot up the school, which means the jury would have to tie the threat to the school.
“We do not believe a rational juror could find that Felker’s threats were unrelated to a school setting,” Judge Jeff S. Taylor wrote in the appeals court’s opinion.
The appeals court also felt harassment didn’t apply because the charge would’ve required additional evidence than what had already been gathered for the terroristic threatening charge.
“Harassment requires proof of facts that are not required for second-degree terroristic threatening,” the court wrote in its denial of Felker’s appeal. “Notably, the facts must demonstrate that a defendant created a hostile environment at school to be guilty of harassment.”
In a statement, Fayette Commonwealth’s Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn said, “We agree with the Court of Appeals’
recognition that the legislature specifically intended to treat threats of violence against schools and students seriously, and we agree with the jury’s verdict that Felker’s actions showed his threats were intentionally made.”
She noted that because Felker was convicted of a felony, “he is prohibited from having a firearm in the future.”
Felker also objected to the prosecution’s closing argument, in which prosecutors told the jury that Felker was guilty for threatening to shooting up the school or shoot individual students regardless of whether or not he intended to do it. Felker argued that it wasn’t illegal if the comments were made jokingly or in jest. The appeals court disagreed.
The appeals court did agree with Felker on one issue. Felker argued that the circuit court shouldn’t have allowed the jury to consider “highly prejudicial” testimony from his mother, in which she compared her son to Nikolas Cruz, the man charged with killing 17 people in a shooting at Marjorie Stone Douglas High School in Parkland, Fl.
The appeals court stated that the circuit court abused its discretion by allowing the testimony to be considered, but the appellate judges didn’t find the testimony to be significant in the jury’s decision.
“The error was harmless,” Taylor wrote in the court’s opinion, stating that Jill Felker’s comparison between Timothy Felker and Nikolas Cruz lasted only a few minutes, and she also testified that she didn’t think her son had any intention of shooting up a school.
Felker was sentenced in August 2019. A petition for a re-hearing would be due by May 6, according to court records.