Experts explain why no charges are pressed against the Hewitt-Trussville High School student accused of having a ‘death notebook’

Published: Sep. 29, 2022 at 11:34 PM CDT
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TRUSSVILLE, Ala. (WBRC) - We are learning more about what was inside a “death notebook” found at Hewitt-Trussville High School.

In a letter to parents, the Vice President of the Trussville Board of Education said that the “death notebook” contained ways the 37 students listed would die, including death by ants or an AK-47. The student who is accused of having the book is now in alternative school, but Alabama law doesn’t allow police to press any criminal charges.

“Issues in the past, nothing this major, nothing this big,” Trussville Police Chief Eric Rush said.

Trussville Police Chief Eric Rush said the Jefferson County DA’s office declined their attempt to press terroristic threat charges against the Hewitt-Trussville High School student who started the “death notebook”. The notebook is based off a TV show.

“It takes disruption of school,” Rush said. “So, if they had canceled or evacuated school, then it would have been considered a terroristic threat.”

Legal experts tell WBRC it’s also because the student didn’t verbalize a threat.

“As bad as this seems, it doesn’t fit clearly under Alabama’s terrorist laws,” Kirby Farris, a partner with Farris, Riley, & Pitt said. “If he had verbalized it to someone, to a student on that list. If he had made an actual threat, not something in the realm of fantasy, but this is something I want to do, or this is how I want to harm you, or I am going to harm you, then that would put it in a different category altogether.”

Terroristic threat is a felony charge and Farris said there isn’t another charge that this case would qualify for.

“Nothing that I have seen that this fits clearly in to,” he said. “You can have an assault in a situation like this, if there is a direct threat made to an individual, but here we just don’t have that. It was just something written in a notebook.”

Chief Rush said he would like there to be a lesser charge that the department could have pressed.

“I think there needs to be like a Class A misdemeanor, that would fit this case,” Rush said.

The Trussville Board of Education is holding a special meeting on Friday morning, September 30. Officials said it is to address leadership issues head on and do what is best for the students.

WBRC asked the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office why they officially declined the terroristic threat charges for the accused student. You can read the response from Danny Carr below:

“In Alabama we have the felony crime of Terrorist Threats (Code of Alabama, Section 13A-10-15). To be guilty of this a person must threaten a crime of violence against a person or property by means of explosives, firearms or some other deadly weapon. As required by the statute, the threat must be intentionally communicated to another person, it must be credible and imminent, and it must be made under circumstances which convey to the threatened person that it will be executed immediately. In the case of a school, the threat must rise to the level that it causes a disruption of school activities or results in the evacuation of property. Based on the information as we know it, the notebook in question contained the private thoughts of the student and only became known to school officials when it was discovered and brought to their attention by a third party. No intentional communication to another person was ever made by the student. Therefore, the discovery of the notebook does not qualify as a “threat” under the definition set forth in the Terrorist Threats statute. We also have the misdemeanor offense of Harassing Communications (Sec. 13A-11-8(b)(1)). However, this crime also requires an intentional communication to another person and would not apply for the same reason. While we understand that people are alarmed by this incident and agree that affirmative action should be taken, no State law has been violated that would allow for the filing of delinquency charges in the Juvenile Court.”

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