Expelled student sentenced to prison — (Greeley Tribune)

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Greeley Tribune,   The Greeley Publishing Co.

By Sharon Dunn, sdunn@greeleytribune.com

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Judge: 44-year-old didn’t handle First, Second Amendment rights responsibly

Though he exercised his First and Second Amendment rights, a former UNC doctoral student didn’t show the kind of responsibility required of them, a Weld District Court judge said Thursday.

Judge Todd Taylor sentenced Eric Kinder, 44, to three years in prison on Thursday, following the man’s failed attempt at probation one week into his original sentence in April.

“We speak a lot in this country about our rights, but we don’t always talk about responsibilities” in exercising them, Taylor said. “We all have a right to free speech, but we also have the responsibility for the effect it has.”

University of Northern Colorado officials expelled Kinder and banned him from campus last fall after he wrote an apparently violent synopsis of a screenplay depicting a violent shooting with him as the protagonist.

Kinder, who told authorities the college’s actions were tantamount to censorship, said the expulsion made him suicidal. A month after the expulsion, a friend called police to have them check on Kinder, and a standoff ensued, with Kinder showing police his guns and refusing to leave his house without them. He was arrested three hours later.

Taylor said Kinder is allowed to exercise his rights, but he also had the choice to respond appropriately. He said Kinder hadn’t responded with maturity to the situation. Arming himself in a standoff with police was not a choice that most people would have made, Taylor said.

Kinder pleaded guilty to the menacing charge and was given a 12-year probation sentence. But one week into his sentence, Kinder attempted suicide with his prescription medication for depression after he was confronted by a truckload of people saying he should be dead.

Taylor revoked his probation in late June. Kinder was screened for another community-based sentence to probation or community corrections and was denied placement. Taylor’s only choice was a prison term, the cap for which was three years.

Kinder’s attorney, Jake Goldstein, said the case underscored a judicial system “hell-bent” on labels to which those being labeled finally succumb. In this case, he said, the system and college officials wanted to label Kinder as the next Columbine or Virginia Tech shooter. In reality, Goldstein said, he is suicidal, but he wouldn’t, and never did, hurt anyone.

“He’s a sad, middle-aged guy who lost everything and all we’ve given him so far is shame and hurt, 310 days of confinement and a bond so high he could never post it,” Goldstein said.

Taylor said he was concerned about Kinder’s lack of personal responsibility, and he worried about the next potential suicide attempt and whether he’d try to take someone with him.

“The people in this courtroom are concerned and rightly so about things like Columbine or Virginia Tech,” Taylor said. “Nobody knows what your intentions are, and I don’t think at times you know.”

Kinder listened to the sentence without reaction. Following the prison time, in which Taylor said he hopes will be served at a prison which deals with mental health issues, Kinder will be on parole for two years.