Guilty plea: Crider charges could be dropped at 21
In a plea agreement that keeps him out of jail and allows the charges to be dropped when he turns 21, Patrick Crider, the former Western Albemarle High School student who was arrested in January for threatening on Facebook to kill four classmates and then himself, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of making threats.
According to Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Darby Lowe, the parents of the threatened teens "had a great concern he not be convicted as a felon," she told Judge Paul Peatross in court June 8.
"He did not have a gun," said Lowe. "He did not take steps to get one. I feel strongly this young man with no criminal record be given treatment."
She noted that Crider was barely 18 when he posted the January 13 threats on Facebook to kill four teens and then himself, and she told the court that Crider has undergone psychiatric evaluations.
"All have concluded Mr. Crider is not a threat to himself or others," said Crider attorney David Franzen, who urged the judge to keep Crider on "a short leash" until he's age 21.
Peatross took a night to read the psychological reports and returned to court June 9 to accept the plea that will allow Crider to avoid the five-year sentence that can follow a felony threat conviction.
Peatross inherited the case after Judge Cheryl Higgins determined–- via a bizarre hearing in which she had Crider play violin–- that she knew him and therefore had a conflict of interest. Crider was scheduled to enter a plea May 5, but Higgins closed the too-hot courtroom in Albemarle Circuit Court, postponing the hearing again to June 8 inside a Charlottesville courtroom.
Invoking Columbine, Judge Peatross noted to Crider, "You weren't intending to carry out the actions you said. If that weren't the case, I wouldn't accept this plea."
Among the conditions of the agreement, Crider will live with his mother, stay in school or employed, stay off social-networking sites like Facebook, and he's banned from contact with Albemarle County schools, especially Western Albemarle, except to get transcripts.
"I want him engaged in constructive activities, either at work or at school," ordered Peatross.
Lowe pointed out that threats to kill classmates have to be taken seriously. "We're balancing the need for safety and the need for rehabilitation," she says.
Through home schooling, Crider recently finished high school and should get a diploma this week, says his attorney, who pronounced his client regretful for the harm he's caused others.
"We're very pleased the judge accepted the plea," says Franzen. "We feel Patrick can now turn to his future."