A Salem man was found not guilty of first-degree making a terrorist threat July 29 following a one-day bench trial. Judge Randall Head dismissed Manuel Lee from any further proceeding stemming from the charge.
Lee was defended by Attorney Michael Hackworth. The state was represented by Dent County Prosecuting Attorney Andrew M. Curley and James Weber.
In a statement released after the trial, Prosecutor Curley indicated if confronted with a similar situation in the future, he would respond in the same fashion.
“Children attending school should never be in fear for their safety,” the statement says. “We have to be hypervigilant and proactive when it comes to protecting our children from any perceived threats of violence. This incident occurred within three to four weeks following the Parkland Florida school shooting. We respect the decision rendered by Judge Head and I pray that Manual goes on to live a very productive life. In this day of social media, I would encourage parents to talk to their children about using caution when publishing statements on the internet. Further, I want to thank the kids and parents that reported this incident to the school and law enforcement. If you are aware that any person is making statements about harming the school, any other organization, or any individual, please report the same immediately to your parents, teachers and/or law enforcement.”
A press release from the Phelps County Prosecutor’s Office details Lee was charged with first-degree making a terrorist threat on March 9, 2018. It states the charges stemmed from Lee posting a Snapchat image himself with a caption that said, “God Damn people getting me into trouble. There’s a storm a coming and it’s going to hit Salem R80 hard.”
The post was viewed by other students and was ultimately provided to Assistant Principal Clay Moody. Lee was subsequently arrested and interviewed at the Salem Police Department. When asked about the meaning of the Snapchat post by police, Lee said he did not mean for the post to be terroristic in nature and that he had no intention of conducting a school shooting.
The release states Lee did indicate that he meant the statement to demonstrate that he could cause damage, like breaking someone’s finger, and indicated that he was very angry the day of the comment due to an incident at the school where another student had “snitched” on him for chewing tobacco, as well as an incident involving his ex-girlfriend. Also, on the day of the incident, a bullying report was submitted by Lee’s ex-girlfriend indicating Manuel had been bullying her.
A search warrant was executed at Lee’s home the same day. Found inside the home were knives, located in the Lee’s bedroom, and firearms that were located in the bedroom of his parents.
Prosecutor Curley charged Lee on March 10, 2018. He was subsequently incarcerated for a period of 11 days, later released on bond and placed on house arrest. Lee was also expelled from school and his attendance was later withdrawn by his parents. He has not attended Salem R-80 since the incident.
At trial, the state presented evidence regarding the law enforcement investigation, along with the school’s involvement in the case while the defense presented evidence Lee had been the subject of bullying at school. The state requested the court to consider the defendant guilty under first-, second- or third-degree making a terroristic threat. At the conclusion of the trial, Judge Head found Lee not guilty and discharged him from further proceedings. Judge Head presided over the trial following the recusal of Judge Kelly Parker from the case.