After a four-day trial that included testimony from students, law enforcement and school administrators, a jury found a man guilty Thursday of making threats against a Lexington high school.
Timothy Felker, 19, was a senior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School when he was charged with second-degree terroristic threatening after authorities received tips that he had threatened to “shoot up” the school and kill certain students. The jury found him guilty after about two hours of deliberation.
The threats he was accused of making were reported to the school after Felker made an Instagram post of a semiautomatic rifle he’d purchased.
After three anonymous tips and an email from a parent to an official at another school, Lexington police investigators went to the home of Felker and his mother in mid-February 2018. Felker’s mother showed the investigators his room and allowed them to take the AR-15 and about 450 rounds of ammunition he had purchased about a month earlier.
His defense attorneys argued throughout the trial that Felker was joking when he made comments about shooting up the school or shooting specific students.
Defense attorney Tucker Richardson mentioned during his closing arguments Thursday that a student who testified said she’d heard Felker make violent jokes before, but his remarks changed in tone in the months before he was taken into custody on February 2018.
Richardson said that the shootings in Marshall County and Parkland, Fla., may have changed how students perceived Felker’s comments, but that he was still making “dumb” dark jokes. Richardson also said that Felker was not alone in having a dark sense of humor; he said outrageous things to get attention.
Richardson criticized investigators for not getting students who were interviewed to give specific dates when the alleged threats occurred and for not finding other students present who could verify that the statements were made.
During his testimony earlier in the week, Lexington police Sgt. Daniel Burnett said investigators had what they needed from an interview with Felker when he was first taken into custody and placed in Eastern State Hospital for evaluation.
Burnett said that Felker admitted making the threats between October 2017 and December 2017. The range of dates was important because Felker turned 18 — and could be charged as an adult — in October of 2017.
Burnett said he felt that pressing the Dunbar students to give police more information was damaging to the integrity of the anonymous tip system through which the initial complaints had been made.
The defense also argued the gun, which Felker bought from Buds Gun Shop with $500 cash his mother had given him for a tattoo, was not evidence that Felker had any sinister plans.
“Boys just want to blow stuff up ... they just want to make as much noise as they can,” Richardson said.
Richardson said that the book “The Reaper” and the game Call of Duty found in Felker’s room did not mean anything. He pointed out that the book about the life of a sniper was a New York Times bestseller and that many teens play the first-person shooter game Call of Duty.
Prosecutors agreed that the book and game did not mean Felker had violent intentions, but they said that with the other evidence, the items painted a picture of Felker’s state of mind.
The defense attorneys said from the beginning of the trial that they believed the fact Felker bought a cleaning kit for his AR-15 was significant.
“School shooters don’t buy cleaning kits,” Richardson said. “They buy a second magazine.”
During testimony Thursday, it was mentioned that Burnett had a brief and general conversation with detective Sean Stafford about Burnett’s testimony earlier in the trial. Richardson said it was against the rules for a witness who testified in a trial to talk to a later witness in the trial.
Burnett said he didn’t know that Stafford was set to testify later in the trial, but he admitted that talking to Stafford about testimony was a mistake.
Richardson said that he believed the investigators did not intend to break the rules by having a conversation, but they broke the rule all the same.
Prosecutor Andrea Williams said during her closing arguments that the conversation should not have happened. But the conversation happened after the investigation was complete and should not have bearing on the jury’s finding, she said.
Prosecutors argued that for jurors to find Felker guilty of second-degree terroristic threatening, prosecutors did not have to prove Felker had any intention of carrying out a school shooting. The words themselves were the crime, Williams said.
During his first interview with police, Felker was recorded saying he’d had a change of heart in late 2017 or early 2018. He said that he no longer would make comments about wanting to hurt people, and that he only wanted to protect people.
Williams argued that Felker’s actions in late 2017 and early 2018 show that he had not had a change of heart.
Williams pointed to memes that Felker liked on Instagram that joked about mass shootings, and showed screen photos of text message conversations where he said he wanted to kill himself.
Sentencing for Felker was scheduled for Aug. 2.