July 9, 2013 at 7:11 PM ET
An online petition by a mother asking authorities to release her 19-year-old son from jail now has more than 100,000 signatures. He's been incarcerated since February because of a perceived threat he posted on Facebook.
"What has been so wonderful is not only how many people have signed it, but also the many notes of encouragement that have been posted," Jennifer Carter, mother of Justin Carter, told TODAY Tuesday. "There doesn't seem to be any political slant to it — we get just as many Republicans as Democrats — standing up for Justin's right to free speech."
Justin Carter's February posting on Facebook, coming two months after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., resulted in his being arrested and charged with making a terroristic threat. The alarm is understandable, given the violent content of his post: "I think I'ma shoot up a kindergarten ... and watch the blood of the innocent rain down ... and eating the beating heart of one of them." However, his parents contend that it was clearly denoted as an admittedly bad joke, followed by "JK" ("just kidding") and "LOL" ("laughing out loud").
"His response may have been in bad taste, but it was written in a non-threatening way that didn’t translate well online," said Jennifer Carter in a statement on Change.org, where the petition is filed. She adds that the context of that posting is that her son was "in an argument on the League of Legends website, which continued on a Facebook page, and someone on Facebook called him crazy and messed up in the head."
In Texas, the charge Justin Carter faces is considered a third-degree felony, for which he could face between 2 and 10 years in prison, according to the Comal County District Attorney's Office. The county is northeast of San Antonio, which is about an hour away.
Jennifer Carter doesn't defend what her son did, and "we've pretty much said all along we recognize the need to investigate" what happened. (Cops did go to Justin's apartment, and no weapons were found during a search.) "But to just arrest him and put him in jail" is not right, she told TODAY.
The Comal County District Attorney's office declined to comment Tuesday on the case or the petition. D.A. Jennifer Tharp released a statement July 3, saying she understands the "significant amount of public interest in the case," but will not have anything else to say about it until the case "is closed."
Justin Carter's attorney has filed a motion to dismiss the case, and a hearing is set for Tuesday, July 16. If the case is not dismissed, Jennifer Carter hopes the judge will agree to significantly reduce her son's $500,000 bond "so we can at least get him out while we wait for the trial to start."
"I really want people to know that my son isn't a perfect angel, but he's not a bad kid," she told TODAY. "He's like a lot of other teenagers who like to go on the computer ... He said something he thought was funny and it got misinterpreted."
Jennifer Carter, who lives in Florida, said she has been proud of Justin, because he had an apartment he was sharing with a roommate, and a job he loved, working for an audio-visual company.
"He was doing well," she said. "I just hope that we can get him back to that place. And that once this nightmare's over, he'll be able to pick up his life again."