A state district judge in Santa Fe has tossed out charges against two teens charged by police with plotting to shoot up Santa Fe High School, but ordered that a third remain jailed while his case proceeds.
At Tuesday's court appearance, Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer dismissed without prejudice charges against Julian Carter and Santiago Trujillo, two students at the school who police claimed knew about a pair of hand-written notes containing vague outlines for a shooting plan.
Val Whitley, Carter's lawyer, tells SFR that the thin evidence against his client makes it unlikely that the state will refile the charges in the future.
"Both [Trujillo and Carter] will probably have trouble in school," he says. "But there was nothing found in this case, just a note."
The third boy, Aaron Encinias, was ordered to remain in juvenile custody after Deputy District Attorney Jason Lidyard showed Sommer the notes, which he claimed contained a "planning scheme to enter the school armed and conduct a school shooting." He also argued Encinias was a danger to himself and others.
"The state believes detention is necessary for the time being, and [we're] asking for a mental health evaluation to be conducted to see what we're dealing with here," Lidyard told Sommer.
A bailiff handcuffed Encinias, but quickly removed the shackles after the teen's lawyer, Mark Dickson, reminded the judge of rules prohibiting children from being shackled in court. Encinias was born in 2003; Trujillo and Carter in 2002.
Encinias is being held at the Santa Fe County Juvenile Detention facility and will appear before a judge again on Nov. 29. The state will present an amended petition at that hearing that may contain new charges.
Charging documents for the three teenagers indicate the primary evidence in the case is two letters, at least one of which was signed by Encinias, as well as Encinias' confession to police.
According to police records, the letter, which was dated "10/28/17," was found by a group of students on school grounds last Tuesday. It contained the names of several students and teachers marked for death and a small diagram of the school's courtyard.
Separately, police also say they were given a second note by a confidential informant last Thursday. The informant found the note, which allegedly outlined a "school shooting plan," in the parking lot of the San Isidro apartment complex on San Ignacio Road.
Neither of the notes have been released to the public.
All three students had been charged under an obscure anti-terrorism law originally passed to prosecute armed militia and white supremacist groups in New Mexico. Encinias remains charged with one count of engaging in terrorist activity, a fourth-degree felony, and one count of interference with public officials.
The Antiterrorism Act under which he is charged was signed into law in 1990. A search by the Supreme Court Law Library yielded no record of it being cited in any criminal case in New Mexico since then.
In her autobiography about her time as a state representative, A Woman in Both Houses, Pauline Eisenstadt writes that she was motivated to introduce the legislation based on a presentation by the Anti-Defamation League about the growing presence of "small paramilitary and antigovernment groups, such as skinheads and Aryan Nations" in the mountains and valleys of New Mexico and other states.
Under the act, it is a crime for anybody to train, practice, or receive instruction in the use of firearms and destructive devices in furtherance of a "civil disorder." Penalties include up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Besides the notes, no evidence has been presented by prosecutors to show that Encinias had access to weapons or made any other preparations to attack the school.
To Peter Langman, a psychologist who runs a website containing scholarly research on school shootings, a note listing the names of people to kill could be evidence that Encinias crossed the threshold from fantasy into actual planning. But he says terrorism charges in such a case are unheard of.
"My impression is it's usually not a terrorism charge. It might be attempted murder or some other serious charge, but not one that has anything to do with terrorism," he tells SFR.
Langman suggests that the severity of the charges may be local reaction to the spate of recent high profile mass shootings across the country, including one in Las Vegas and another in a Texas church where dozens of people were slaughtered.
Santa Fe police wouldn't provide comment besides forwarding charging documents to SFR. District Attorney Marco Serna did not return multiple requests for comment.