A Georgia Southern University student is waiting to learn his fate after being charged with issuing terroristic threats via computer.
Caleb Jamaal Clemmons, 20, has spent the last six months in Bulloch County Jail for declaring on his Tumblr blog intent to lead a shooting spree at Georgia Southern.
He is set to appear Tuesday, Aug. 20, in a Bulloch County courtroom for a plea calendar date, during which defendants have an opportunity change pleas or accept bargains, for the judge to either approve or deny. Otherwise, a trial date will be set.
Clemmons could face as much as five years in prison, or a $1,000 fine, according to Jack Williamson, the public defender assigned to the case.
"He was charged with terroristic threats, which in laymen's terms, means putting someone in fear of being harmed or perhaps even killed. (Clemmons) has entered a plea of not guilty," Williamson said. "It is not my call (to determine to validity of the charges). I will make sure that my client's rights under laws in the state of Georgia are protected and I will be an advocate for his defense."
A psychology major, Clemmons often wrote a Tumblr blog under the moniker "irenigg" and posted there on Feb. 7: "hello. my name is irenigg and i plan on shooting up georgia southern. pass this around to see the affect it has. to see if i get arrested."
Clemmons was arrested a mere three hours after typing the message — because of an anonymous email sent to police - according to a report provided to the Georgia Southern student newspaper, The George-Anne, by Georgia Southern University Police Chief Mike Russell.
The same report stated that, despite Clemmons' claims, no weapons or signs of a plot to attack were found during a search of his apartment.
According to Russell, Clemmons told authorities that his post was a joke, done only to see how long it would take to be arrested. Clemmons' family maintains that his Tumblr profile is merely for artistic/satiric expression.
Joseph Cushner, an assistant district attorney for the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit, said that while he was not able yet to specifically address Clemmons case, "obviously we take cases like this very seriously."
"Anytime people are threatened we take it seriously," he said. "Especially in light of recent events at Sandy Hook Elementary (Newtown, Conn.) and with other school shootings."
Clemmons' mother, Andrea Morris, issued a statement on an Internet petition — titled "Release Clemmons; student prosecuted over ‘terroristic' Tumblr post" — created to draw attention to the case.
"Caleb missed the needed support of his father. However, he managed to become a strong, intelligent and loving young man. With this being said, though Caleb may have chosen the wrong time to post a prank, his present punishment and possible fate is beyond my comprehension," Morris wrote. "Caleb was attending a great college and had a promising future, despite a few setbacks. He needs another chance at making things right."
The petition, on change.org, has garnered the support of 3,735 people.
Clemmons has remained in jail for several months, despite a $20,000 bond issued in March.
According to a Huffington Post report, a spokesman for the Bulloch County Jail said the Clemmons' family cannot afford to pay the bond.
A page has been set up online to raise money for payment and a lawyer. About $2,000 of a $5,000 goal has been collected.
The official comment released by Georgia Southern University regarding the case — sent Monday in an email by Casey Jones, the university's assistant director for marketing and communications, reads: "Georgia Southern University is unable to make any comments on the Clemmons case at this time."
Students at the university were alerted about the threat more than one month after Clemmons' statement.
According to Dean of Students Patrice Jackson, in The George-Anne report, students were notified because the Tumblr message had resurfaced, causing alarm.
Jackson was quoted saying: "I felt in order to answer any questions about a perceived threat, or a fear of a threat, I needed to let students know we had resolved the issue."
Students were not originally notified because there was no continuous threat, Jackson said.
"The Dean of Students Office is responsible for the notifications to students, and our standard is, ‘Is there a continued threat?' because the purpose of the notification is not just to give you information, but it's also so you can be aware and protect yourself and take extra, cautious steps if need be," Jackson said.
Clemmons' public defender believes his client's case very unique, and likely a first in Bulloch County (though there are similar examples around the country).
"To be honest, this is the first time I have ever heard of this type of threat being brought. I have been doing this for 20 or 30 years and never had a crime of this particular nature - where you have a threat being made to a group of people via the Internet," Williamson said. "In the situation we are in, with terrorists being all over the country and the world, these things are looked at from a whole different viewpoint. Universities look at these things very seriously."
The Associated Press reported a few days ago that a 33-year-old Milledgeville man was sentenced to two years in prison for posting a threat to his Facebook page about shooting someone at a school.
In that case, The Telegraph of Macon reported that Steven Martin Michael posted a message on Facebook last year saying ht wanted to be famous and would do that by walking into a school and shooting someone.
Officers searched Martin's home and — as in the case of Clemmons — found no evidence of a planned attack. But Steve Bradley, the prosecutor in the Milledgeville case, said authorities still took the posting seriously.
Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.