A former Texas Woman’s University student was formally sentenced Thursday on charges that he made threats in a classroom and also in a letter to U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess in 2011.
Christopher Allen Gillette, 31, received a 10-year probated sentence in connection with the TWU threats and four years in prison in connection with the threats in the Burgess letter. Probation and the prison sentence will run concurrently.
The formal charges were making a terroristic threat that would impair public or government service, which is a third-degree felony. Gillette has been in county jail since his arrest in March 2011 and is now eligible for parole under the rule that he must serve at least a quarter of his sentence.
The trial in 367th District Court lasted five days beginning April 30, and jurors deliberated six hours in the guilt-innocence phase of the trial and eight hours on sentencing.
“It was a difficult case, going in,” said district attorney spokeswoman Jamie Beck. “We absolutely feel that it crossed the line from free speech to threats. If we wait for the bad, bad thing to happen, people will say ‘why didn’t you see the red flags?’ This is a case where the community did see the red flags and acted on it. We do hope that he can get the help that he claimed he was seeking.”
Gillette served two stints in the military and was injured in training accidents both times. He graduated with honors from North Central Texas College in 2010 and enrolled at TWU. But he was in pain, he said in a jailhouse interview after his arrest, and he grew angrier as the pain he couldn’t get help for began to affect his grades. He said during the interview that Veterans Affairs only gave him pain medicine when he needed rehabilitation.
On March 1, 2011, he was in a government class at TWU when he suddenly began addressing the class. He talked about riding in the back of a pickup with an AK-47 through the streets of Washington, D.C. He scared students in the class and put into motion a series of events that included campus police locking down the university until he was arrested a short time later at a VA office in Dallas.
Before that, in a long, undated letter to Burgess, R-Lewisville, he ranted about the government’s failure to help him as well as numerous other subjects like the Kennedy assassination, taking weapons from citizens in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, taxes and the nation’s two-party political system.
The letter made demands of a written apology from the federal government to him and full compensation for his injuries, and included threats.
“I will begin preparations to begin offensive combat preparations against the federal government. These preparations will include great care not to target civilian non-combatant personnel, specifically women and children, and will not include the use of explosives or political assassination as a means of political change,” he wrote.
Prosecutor Michael Graves brought a Burgess aide to testify about the letter as well as the professor and three students to testify about the classroom rant. Conditions of his probation include maintaining contact with mental health authorities and continuing to take medication to treat his depression.
Gillette’s attorney, Derek Adame, said Thursday that he has not yet discussed with his client the prospect of a possible appeal. Adame’s defense hinged on a person’s First Amendment right to free speech.
“The statements he made were an expression of his feelings against the government,” Adame said. “You get to criticize the government and you get to be even vociferous about it. At some point you cross a line, and we believe he didn’t.”
Adame said that Gillette will be given antidepressants while in prison but is likely to have to wait until he is free for extended mental health services. He said he knows the jury worked hard to do the right thing.
University shootings in recent years and the shooting of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, have made the nation more sensitive to comments perceived as threats, Adame said.
“What really worked against him were the inappropriate locations for the comments,” he said. “He made reference to guns. We have no quarrel with that.”
DONNA FIELDER can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .