Court allows prosecution over AR-15 photo

A state appeals court Friday said prosecutors can pursue a case against a former North Marion High School student who sent a Snapchat photo to a student showing an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and the caption, “Show and Tell @NM on Monday.”

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 5th District Court of Appeal overturned a decision by a Marion County circuit judge that dismissed a charge against defendant Blake Michael Cowart of sending a written threat to kill or do bodily injury to child.

Cowart sent the photo to a student at the school about two weeks after the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people.

In arguing for dismissal, Cowart contended that the photo and caption did not threaten to kill or injure the student, identified in Friday’s ruling by the initials Z.M., and that the law governing the issue violated his constitutional right to free expression. While the circuit judge dismissed the charge, the appeals court said Z.M. testified about feeling threatened.

“It was undisputed that the Snap was a photograph of a scoped AR-15 rife with an extended, large-capacity magazine and was captioned, ‘Show and Tell@ NM on Monday,’” said the six-page ruling by appellate judges Jay Cohen, F. Rand Wallis and John Harris.

“The state noted … that Z.M. testified under oath that he felt on edge after receiving the Snap and did not believe that the Snap was a joke; he was concerned, especially given the recent school shootings in the country, and believed Cowart was going to bring a gun to the school and shoot it up the following Monday.

The reasonableness of Z.M.’s alarm was further supported by the fact that several other NMHS students who saw the Snap were also concerned and contacted the school resource officer regarding the matter.”