PROVO — A Denver man who posted on Facebook that he would "shoot up a public place and kill as many women as I see" during a weekend of women's marches nationwide was ordered Thursday to serve up to five years in the Utah State Prison.
Christopher Wayne Cleary, 27, showed no emotion as a judge sentenced him Thursday, about four months after police said he posted the message because women had rejected his advances. He was on probation in Colorado at the time for stalking and threatening women there, court documents show.
Cleary pleaded guilty last month to a reduced charge of attempting to make a terroristic threat, a third-degree felony, as part of a plea deal. He was originally charged with a second-degree felony. Prosecutors agreed to recommend no prison time in exchange for the plea.
But 4th District Judge Christine Johnson did not follow the prosecution's recommendation. She ordered him to serve a zero-to-five-year prison term, saying she wanted Utah's parole authorities to investigate and determine when he should be released.
Attorney Dustin Parmley said his client's failure to control his violent speech is tied to his mental illness, first diagnosed at age 10. He argued for Cleary's release so he could continue treatment he had started in Colorado.
"That speech-type behavior has never extended to acts of physical violence," Parmley said, and investigators did not turn up evidence that Cleary had weapons or tried to purchase any.
"I’m just sorry for what happened," a shackled Cleary told the judge.
Parmley did not give details about his client's diagnosis but said he had a troubled childhood and bounced from one group home to the next after being separated from his parents at age 4. A Colorado defense attorney has previously said in court that Cleary had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder.
"I don't want to be in the position of guessing what Colorado is going to do," the judge said Thursday. Johnson gave Cleary credit for roughly four months he has spent in the Utah County Jail.
Cleary was arrested at a McDonald's during a trip to Provo on Jan. 19, the same day women's marches were held nationally and in Utah. Authorities in Colorado spotted his posts and called Provo police.
"All I wanted was a girlfriend," Cleary wrote, according to a police affidavit. "All I wanted was to be loved, yet no one cares about me I'm 27 years old and I've never had a girlfriend … this is why I'm planning on shooting up a public place soon and being the next mass shooter cause I'm ready to die and all the girls the turned me down is going to make it right by killing as many girls as I see."
He later told investigators that he was upset and not thinking clearly when he made the posts, police said.
In such cases, it's difficult to know when the threat will extend beyond words, deputy Utah County attorney Douglas Finch said Thursday, calling Cleary's touch with Utah "very, very brief."
The plea bargain was designed to secure a felony conviction that could help Colorado authorities get a prison sentence for Cleary's probation violations, Finch told the Associated Press ahead of the hearing, and the recommendation for probation was key to securing his guilty plea.
Finch has said his office views Cleary as dangerous but wasn't certain it could prove that the "stupid, horrible" message rose to the level of a threat of terrorism.
Parmley, however, insisted his client's Facebook rant "wasn't targeted at anyone in particular. He chose extreme words to express his feelings of frustration."
Cleary will likely remain in prison in Utah for at least several months. His first hearing with the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole will probably take place in September or October, said Jim Hatch, a board hearing officer. The board could set a release date at that point, or it could continue to evaluate him and possibly decide to keep him in prison for the whole five years.
The January post fit a pattern of behavior for Cleary, who has terrorized women he met over the internet,the AP reported. He has avoided prison terms in Colorado after a string of women and teenagers accused him of making threats and harassing them.
At least eight people since 2012 told authorities that Cleary stalked or harassed them, according to the AP. Police in Colorado also investigated complaints that he threatened to bomb a grocery store in 2013 and threatened a mass shooting at a mental health facility during a phone call in 2016.6 comments on this story
The same year, he was charged with stalking two 18-year-old women he met online and was later charged with stalking and harassing a third woman. Judges in Jefferson County, Colorado, sentenced him to probation in the three cases in 2018.
The county prosecutor's office has said Cleary will be returned to Colorado and prosecutors will seek to revoke his probation and send Cleary to prison. A warrant for his arrest in Denver states that a 17-year-old told police in 2015 that he sent her a string of threatening text messages, including "I own multipul guns I can have u dead in a second."