Teen receives probation for threatening students

Prosecutor admits no `hit list' was found

April 27, 2001|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

A South Carroll High School senior accused of threatening to kill several classmates last month was placed on probation yesterday after the county prosecutor acknowledged that police found no evidence that the student intended to carry out his threats.

Russell M. Furr, 18, entered an Alford plea in juvenile court, allowing him to maintain his innocence while conceding that the evidence against him likely would have led to a conviction.

He agreed to a statement of facts that he had threatened several students at school with serious injury or death. Furr also acknowledged through the agreement that police had found e-mail conversations of his under the name "Butcherall" on a computer seized during a search of his parents' Taylorsville home and that those e-mails corroborated allegations of the threats.

But police found no "hit list," weapons, explosives or other threatening communications "that would indicate an intent to carry out the threats," according to the statement of facts. Photos were found that authorities said supported witness accounts that Furr appears to be fascinated with the Jason Voorhees character from the "Friday the 13th" horror movies.

Dressed in black pants and a gray dress shirt with his long hair tied back in a neat ponytail, Furr said little during the hearing. He provided only "yes" and "no" answers to questions from his attorney and Carroll County Juvenile Master Peter M. Tabatsko regarding whether he understood the charges against him and the legal procedures that led to the plea.

Tabatsko and defense attorney Robert N. Smith III mentioned the context in which Furr was charged with misdemeanor assault and disrupting school activities.

A 15-year-old in Santana, Calif., was arrested in a school shooting spree that left two students dead and 13 wounded three days before Furr was suspended from school. Since the deadly rampage three years ago at Columbine High School in a Denver suburb, school districts have responded with a variety of preventive measures, including the hiring of security officers and the drafting of zero-tolerance policies.

"If this was five, six years ago, this matter might have never made it to court," Tabatsko said. "There is no question that with the temper of our times, any threats in school are taken seriously - as they should be - and police will be involved - as they should be."

Choking up as he read letters of support from Furr's brothers, friends, teachers and neighbors, Smith portrayed his client as a kind and respectful young man who was falsely accused and bewildered by an arrest that came "out of left field." That description contrasted sharply, Smith said, with police news releases and media coverage of Furr "as some crazed individual with no family support and not a friend in the world."

Rather, Smith said his client "got caught up in the tornado borne out by national press coverage of the tragedy in California and a series of copycat crimes across the country."

Yet after more than 140 hours of investigation by the Maryland State Police's computer crimes unit and the assignment of a senior state's attorney to prosecute the case, little evidence could be found, Smith said.

"After all this, there was no hit list, no sniper, no bomb-making materials, no nothing," he said. "You can darn well bet that if there was something out there, it would be in this courtroom for us to consider."

Tabatsko ordered Furr to continue counseling, have no contact with other students involved in the incident and cooperate with school officials in finishing his classwork through an Internet program. Probation will continue for an undetermined period but not beyond his 21st birthday. Tabatsko denied prosecutor David P. Daggett's request to require Furr to complete 30 hours of community service.

Noting his own childhood heroes as American frontiersman Davy Crockett, various baseball players and British musician John Lennon, the prosecutor said that "the fact that [Furr's] hero is a character from one of the goriest movies of our time" at the very least says something about his personality and his problems.

Nevertheless, Daggett described the final disposition as appropriate and fair.

"I don't think the kid needed to be locked up, and I don't think he needed to be sent away to a detention center," he said. "I do think he needs some counseling and needs to see there are happier things in life than `Friday the 13th.'"

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