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Cry for help or terrorist plot? Lawyers in Salt Lake City watch as case grows more complicated

Jack Harry Stiles is troubled. That much, at least, is clear. On the anniversary of his mother’s death, Stiles called 911, asked for police and fire services, and requested hospitalization. In talking to a crisis worker, he outlined a homicidal plan for a mass shooting at a nearby mall and other locations with guns he doesn’t own and said he needed help. Instead of help, he got felony charges for a “threat of terrorism,” and now, he may not even be getting treatment, this Deseret News article suggests. Stiles’ prosecutors and his defense lawyers in Salt Lake City are now haggling over the details of his case, and whether he’ll get treatment or prison time—or at the very least, a trial.

Stiles’ defense attorneys are reporting that in preliminary plea bargains, he had been deemed a “low risk” because he did not own any firearms and his law-enforcement-confirmed the improbability of his ability to purchase one. Advocating for treatment for his mental health issues, Stiles’ lawyers in Salt Lake City reported he was offered a deal for dismissal of charges, release after improved treatment and diversion from prison time. Now, apparently, that deal is off the table after the mall that Stiles targeted exerted pressure on the prosecutors and threatened liability assignment for Stiles’ threats.

One night before Stiles’ scheduled release, the state pulled the original offer, saying that it had been threatened—only in a more legally sanctioned way: press conferences would be held ascribing liability to the state for Stiles’ actions. There are two problems with this new move in the case, according to Stiles’ lawyers in Salt Lake City. The first is that Stiles’ actions were not a terrorist threat, but a cry for help. And while this is something that may have to be determined in a trial court, the second problem with this move on behalf of the state is that the communications that the prosecutors are claiming prompted them to pull the plea deal have yet to be verified.

“I don’t know if these representations are true or not,” Stiles’ defense attorney told the press regarding the alleged communications received from the mall and from police officers. “If these representations are true,” he says, “then this is information that is essential for my client to have a fair trial.” Stiles’ lawyers in Salt Lake City are rightly concerned about the information that will be available to jury members in deciding his fate; whether the motivations that encouraged the state to pull the plea bargain were clinically informed, in the interest of public safety, or the result of political machinations could make a big difference for Stiles’ ability to access treatment.

Additionally, Stiles’ attorneys have filed a motion to disqualify the “newly assigned prosecutor” from the case, alleging that the office “violated state law by obtaining confidential information about Stiles from treatment providers and then sharing that with others in her office as well as other third parties.” To some, this case is about how law enforcement protects the public from harm; to others, it’s about how the justice system treats individuals, albeit potentially dangerous, making a last ditch cry for help.

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