Earlier today, three students were arrested and charged with Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree based on allegations that they conspired to build and detonate a bomb at their school, Connetquot High School. According to news reports, the three students were on a school bus discussing their plans and they were overheard by some of their fellow students who reported them to authorities. The police searched their homes and recovered some BB guns and a book called the Anarchist Cookbook which was written in 1971 and contains, among other things, instructions on building different types of bombs. Notably, it was allegedly used by the Oklahoma City bombers as well as being found in the possession of the Columbine High School shooters.
The article doesn’t indicate whether any additional evidence was recovered, and this is very important when looking at a Conspiracy charge in New York. Conspiracy is considered an “inchoate” crime, which is generally a type of offense which is done in preparation of committing a secondary crime. An attempt to commit a crime is the most common example of an inchoate crime. Conspiracy charges can be tricky, because we want to make sure we don’t punish someone for simply thinking about or talking about committing a crime when there’s no intent to actually do anything illegal.
In order to prove the crime of Conspiracy in New York, the prosecutor has to prove several elements. First, they have to prove that someone has the intent to commit a crime. Then they have to prove that the person has entered into an agreement with at least one other person to try to commit that crime (you can’t have a one person conspiracy). Finally, and most importantly, they have to prove that at least one of the conspirators committed an “overt act” in furtherance of the conspiracy. The reason this is such an important element is that it takes this beyond mere words and demonstrates that concrete steps have been taken in order to actually commit the crime being discussed. For example, it’s one thing for two people to sit around and talk about how it would be a great idea to rob a bank. It’s another thing for them to have this discussion and then go buy masks and guns. In a case like this school conspiracy, it takes what might be silly teenagers venting about how much they hate their school and want to blow it up and changes it into something much more serious, and illegal.
While all threats involving schools need to be taken seriously, we have to be careful to distinguish between merely thinking about doing something or talking about doing something (which is not a crime) and actually taking concrete steps towards doing something (which is a crime).
Reading about this reminded me of a case I handled as a prosecutor almost ten years ago which took place at the same school, Connetquot High School. 18 year old Christopher Franko had been a student at the school and was arrested along with his girlfriend and they were charged with Conspiracy to commit Murder based on their plans to shoot students and faculty at the school, along with any police officers who responded to the scene, before finally setting off bombs inside the school. They were caught while still in the planning stages.
Mr. Franko had been the victim of bullying by other students, and I wanted to be absolutely sure that his talking about committing these crimes wasn’t just teenage fantasy. During the course of the investigation, we discovered several disturbing pieces of evidence which constituted the “overt acts” I described earlier, which were actual physical steps taken in furtherance of the commission of the crime. The defendants had made efforts to purchase a handgun from another student at the high school. They also went to a sporting goods store and attempted to purchase rifles, but they weren’t old enough to complete the purchase. A forensic analysis of Mr. Franko’s computer revealed several Google searches about how to build different types of bombs, including a “propane bomb”. In Mr. Franko’s home investigators found several recently purchased bottles of propane. These, along with other items of evidence recovered, were enough to convince us that this was a legitimate conspiracy and that these were dangerous individuals.
As for the case from today, it’s not clear from the article whether there were any actual overt acts committed which would make these students actions criminal. Did they purchase these weapons and the Anarchist Cookbook after making their plans, or did they already own them? Is there additional evidence which hasn’t yet been released to the media (a very strong possibility).
While it is extremely important to protect our children, especially when we send them off to school where they’re supposed to be safe, it is also important to make sure that we punish people for their acts, not just their thoughts. If there is evidence of any overt acts taken which would raise mere talking to an actual crime of conspiracy, I’m sure we will hear about it in the days to come.
The Law Office of Glenn Kurtzrock is available to assist you with your criminal case. We’re available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call right now for a free consultation at (631) 539-1640, or visit our website at http://www.kurtzrocklaw.com