November 27, 2021

Terror-threat defendant acquitted

Jury finds former CHS student Jensen Schack not guilty of 2 felonies

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Joined by his mother Kimberly Harris, Jensen Schack is released from custody Thursday in Cortland.

A man charged with making terroristic threats was found not guilty Thursday in Cortland County Court.

Jensen Schack, 20, of Plymouth was charged March 3 with two counts of making terroristic threats, felonies. Police said Schack made three Snapchat posts March 1. The first showed his father, Allen Schack, firing an AR-15-style rifle with the caption “Cortland highschool (sic) watch out.” The second showed the rifle in a gun case with the caption “You want to take my guns? You better bring yours.” The final post was of Schack with the caption “that was a joke please don’t send the cops to my house.”

Schack testified the posts were a joke.

Schack’s mother, Kimberley Harris, smiled as she learned the verdict. She declined to comment. Schack has been in jail since March. He was released from the jail at 3:30 p.m.

“We went forward with a case we felt was necessary to be subjected to the process,” District Attorney Patrick Perfetti said. “We will stand by that verdict because it’s part of the process. At the end of the day, my office is served by a just verdict, whatever it may be.”

Judge Julie A. Campbell told the jurors that in order to convict, the prosecution had to show beyond reasonable doubt that Schack intended for the post to threaten Cortland High School and that by making the threat he intended to cause fear. Prosecutors also had to show Schack intended to communicate the threat of first-degree assault toward Cortland city police, Cortland County sheriff’s officers or state police with the intent to cause fear. It took the jury a little over two hours to find Schack not guilty.

Cortland County Assistant District Attorney Victoria Monty, in the prosecution’s closing arguments, said Schack knew the posts could go viral and posted them, anyway.

“Words have meaning,” Monty said several times, the same words Daley used in his opening arguments Tuesday.

“Words do have meaning,” she said. “The words that this defendant choose to caption that video with do have meaning.”

She also noted Schack’s character during his testimony was not the same as when he was in the police car with Cortland County sheriff’s Officer Mercedes Slade and during an interview with Lt. Todd Caufield.

“During times of stress, our personality does not change,” she said. Schack’s use of vulgar, racist and homophobic slurs were intended. “Those are the words of an angry man who is full of rage and hatred.”

Monty also dismissed Schack’s statements that the posts were a joke. She listed several witnesses who testified, including the former classmate who notified police after seeing them.

“That then 14-year-old and her mother didn’t find it funny,” Monty said.

“The purpose of terrorism is to terrorize,” Monty said. “A fear-inducing threat alone may act as terrorism.”

“If this case is full of anything, it’s window-dressing and reasonable doubt,” defense attorney James Daley told jurors.

Schack’s Snapchat posts were made in a five- to 10-minute period, the last of which states: “That snap was a joke please don’t send the cops to my house.” Daly said that showed Schack did not intend them as threats.

“Within minutes of posting those first two snaps he posted a photo of himself saying it was a joke,” Daley said.

Daley said those posts could have been viewed in various ways, insinuating that it was possible Schack could have been warning people that his father was going to shoot up the school, instead of the other way around.

Daley said the sheriff’s office did not thoroughly consider all possible suspects.

“At no point did they express that Allen Schack was a threat,” Daley said.

Daley also said Schack’s statement in his second post — “if you want to take my guns, you better bring yours” — was Schack’s own acknowledgment of the Second Amendment and a common statement on social media.

Daley also focused his closing arguments on a drawing collected as evidence from a green composition notebook showing stick figures shooting at other stick figures with the word “Perry Brown” written on the page. Perry Brown was an intermediate school in Norwich Schack attended.

“Are you kidding me?” Daley said. “This, this is my client’s plan — his nefarious plan to conduct a mass shooting at Cortland High School?”

He said all the defense has proven is that Schack was immature, reckless and “not very funny.”

“Don’t let five minutes of horrible judgment ruin this young man’s life and make him a convicted felon,” Daley said. “Mistakes have the power to turn you into something better than you were, but mistakes also have the power to ruin someone’s life.”