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Shoot Obama messages fell within law says Appeals Court

The statute Walter Bagdasarian was charged with does not make it a crime to predict or exhort others to injure or kill the president, Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote. Two weeks before then-Sen. Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States, Walter Bagdasarian, who lives in Southern California, posted a message on a Yahoo finance site.

Here’s how it read: “Re: Obama fk the niggar, he will have a 50 cal in the head soon.”

Then came another post about 20 minutes later. It read: “Shoot the nig country fkd for another 4 years+, what nig has done ANYTHING right???? long term???? never in history, except sambos.”

On Tuesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in a 2-1 vote that Bagdasarian had been wrongly convicted of online threats. It was a reversal of fortune for Bagdasarian of La Mesa. He had been sentenced to two months in a halfway house after he was convicted on two counts of criminal threats to a presidential candidate.

Bagdasarian’s deeds came to light after Secret Service agents got a tip from a message board member and traced the remarks to him.

The posted statements were “particularly repugnant” because they directly encourage violence, according to the appeals court ruling.  “We nevertheless hold that neither of them constitutes an offense within the meaning of the threat statute under which Bagdasarian was convicted,” the appeals court wrote.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt penned the majority opinion.

“The evidence is not sufficient to support a conclusion that a reasonable person who read the postings within or without the relevant context would have understood either to mean that Bagdasarian threatened to injure or kill the presidential candidate,” wrote Reinhardt, noting that the statements “intended to encourage others to take violent action.”

The statute Bagdasarian was charged with does not make it a crime to predict or exhort others to injure or kill the president, Reinhardt added.

In trying to make their case, federal prosecutors pointed out that Bagdasarian possessed a .50-caliber weapon, the same model noted in his posted statement.

The dissenting judge was Kim McClane Wardlaw, who wrote that “history undermines the conclusion that a reasonable person would interpret Mr. Bagdasarian’s ‘50 cal in the head’ comment as a joke or mere political rhetoric.”

In the dissenting opinion, Wardlaw said the majority ruling did not give proper weight to the nation’s history of racial violence. Wardlaw also noted that the 2008 presidential election had racial and violent undercurrents that were unique.

(To read ruling, visit http://1.usa.gov/o2wDDR)

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