Or so goes our loose legal interpretation of what happened to Kurt William Havelock, who sent letters to a handful of media organizations before the 2008 Super Bowl, threatening to “sacrifice your children upon the altar of your excess,” and then rolled up to the game in Glendale, Arizona, with a brand new assault rifle, plenty of ammo — and then ran home with cold feet. An appeals court just let him off the hook.
How come? Because telling companies “It will be swift and bloody” is not the same thing as telling people the same thing, explains Wired.
During the trial and on appeal, the 40-year-old, who was disgruntled that he was denied a liquor permit to open a bar, argued that he committed no crime at all. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in a 2-1 decision. Under the threatening-letters statute, “the ‘person’ to whom the mail is addressed must be an individual person, not an institution or corporation,” wrote Judge William Canby, who was joined by Judge Betty Fletcher. Havelock’s communications were mailed to media outlets, not named individuals, the majority noted.
In dissent, Judge Susan Graber wrote, “The result of the majority’s interpretation is that the statute prohibits sending a threatening communication only if the outside of the envelope or package explicitly directs delivery to a natural person.”
Havelock sent the threatening letters addressed to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Phoenix New Times, The Associated Press and the websites theshizz.org and azpunk.com. “I will slay your children. I will shed the blood of the innocent,” he wrote. The law, the San Francisco-based appeals court wrote, “does indeed require that the mailed item containing the threat is addressed to an individual person, as reflected in the address on the mailed item. Because Havelock’s communications were not so addressed to individual persons, we reverse his convictions.”
Now please don’t take our legal advice and start shooting off threatening letters to companies you hate (AutoZone, Comcast, Delta, the food cart on the corner that is always out of that spicy jalapeno herb sauce), but if you happened to already address a package to your local Target over the company’s support of an anti-gay political candidate, you can rest easy. So long as you didn’t actually put CEO Gregg Steinhafel’s name on it.