FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- After less than four hours of deliberation Tuesday, a federal jury in Fort Lauderdale found a 21-year-old man guilty of cyberstalking and making kidnapping threats to survivors and family members of the Parkland massacre.
The jury found Brandon Michael Fleury guilty of one count of transmitting a kidnap threat and three counts of cyberstalking. He now faces up to four years and eight months in federal prison.
The six-day trial hinged on the exact nature of the 301 shocking Instagram messages Fleury sent to families and friends of Parkland shooting victims over the course of three weeks last December. The messages were harassing them and threatening abduction.
Fleury's federal public defenders argued that the California man's autism created reasonable doubt about his capacity to judge the emotional effects of his statements. "He did not understand that these people were afraid," explained Federal Public Defender Daryl Wilcox.
Fleury used Instagram handles named after Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz, and serial killer Ted Bundy, to taunt and troll family members and survivors. "Your grief is my joy," he wrote. "I killed your loved ones, hahaha."
The prosecution contended that the messages Fleury sent were true threats, and that he was capable of understanding their effects. "He knew what his activities were doing (to the victims)," argued Assistant United States Attorney Jared Strauss. "He just doesn't feel it, doesn't care."
The prosecution used more than 2,000 photos of Bundy collected from Fleury's tablet computer by FBI agents after they searched his Santa Ana, Calif., home to paint a picture of a deviant feeding off the grief of others.
"This wasn't for attention," argued Assistant United States Attorney Ajay Alexander. "It was for the power, control and domination that he enjoyed."
Fleury's father took the stand during the trial, and his testimony, along with that of an expert defense witness on autism, was used by the defense to paint a portrait of an isolated, deeply autistic young man who played with stuffed animals all day.
As the verdict was read out, Fleury's father shook and sobbed.
"My God," he muttered to himself, as it was announced that his son was guilty on all counts.
After the jury was let go, United States District Judge Rudolfo Ruiz immediately remanded Fleury into the custody of federal Marshals.
"I'm very concerned," Ruiz said from the bench. "I don't think I can, in good conscience, allow him out."
His father shouted, "I love you, Brandon!" as the Marshals led the thin young man, now handcuffed, away. Fleury is set to be sentenced on Dec. 2.
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