Man fascinated with April 16 guilty of threats
The Nevada man pleaded guilty to e-mailing two women who had been stalked by Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho.
By Mike Gangloff
A bizarre echo of the Virginia Tech shootings played out Tuesday in federal court in Roanoke as a Nevada man pleaded guilty to threatening two women who were once stalked by Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho.
Johnmarlo Balasta Napa, a 28-year-old ex-member of the Air Force, gun collector and college student from Las Vegas, pleaded guilty to one count of sending a communication through interstate commerce. The charge, along with a second count that will be dropped under Napa's plea agreement, stemmed from e-mails he sent on April 16, 2008, the one-year anniversary of Cho's killing of 32 people and himself on Tech's campus.
Napa faces a maximum five-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $250,000. Sentencing is set for July 13.
Napa, a short man with collar-length dark hair who was dressed in green jail stripes and leg irons, told U.S. District Court Judge James Turk that he sent e-mails to Holly Huse and Christina Lilick, two women who had figured in Cho's pre-shooting history at Tech. In 2005, the women, then Tech students and roommates in Cochrane Hall, told university authorities they were disturbed by instant messages from Cho, who sometimes called himself "Question Mark." Cho then drew a question mark on their door, prompting an additional complaint. University police told him to leave the women alone.
The e-mail message Napa sent both women contained excerpts from the multimedia manifesto Cho sent to news organizations before the shootings, and also a link to a MySpace page Napa had created as an apparent tribute to Cho. The e-mail address he created to send the messages was seunghuichorevenge @yahoo.com. His MySpace page was similarly titled "seunghuichorevenge" and contained photos of Huse and Lilick, Cho, a collage that seemed to show Cho holding paper dolls of his victims, and a profanity-laced rap song that insulted victims and celebrated Cho's actions.
The page called Cho "a genius who committed mass murder" and offered various threats against the children of rich people. It referred to Cho as having died but returned "and in your mind forever."
Asked by Turk why he sent the e-mails, Napa broke from a pattern of answering "Affirmative, your honor," and "Negative, your honor" to deliver a disjointed account of trying to draw attention to a video game depiction of the Tech shootings and to accounts of college students in Pennsylvania wearing Tech shooting-themed costumes.
He said he had contacted authorities about his concerns but received no response, so he e-mailed Huse and Lilick "hoping they could do something about it."
Napa's attorney, Fay Spence of the federal public defender's office, said after the hearing that her client was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and with having a schizoid personality type with paranoid features, but was found competent to stand trial in an evaluation conducted earlier in the case.
He has sent letters of apology to Lilick and Huse, she said.
Napa's plea agreement allows him to continue pursuing a motion asking the court to declare the e-mails not actual threats and to dismiss the charges. Spence pointed out that Lilick and Huse had figured in numerous news stories after granting an interview to USA Today soon after the Tech shootings, and that their pictures were easily found online. Various details of Cho's life included in the e-mails and MySpace site also could be found online, she said.
Neither Huse nor Lilick was in the courtroom. An aunt of Napa's was present but declined to talk about the case.
Spence said Napa had served about three years in the Air Force, working in an intelligence unit based in the United States that assisted military units in Afghanistan, and that something he had witnessed led to a mental breakdown and eventually to a disability-linked discharge. Spence said she did not know details of what happened to Napa because it was apparently classified.
Testimony from FBI Special Agent David Frey indicated that Napa was fascinated by the Tech shootings, and Spence said "he was concerned with all the things out there that were parodying the situation."
"He thought it was something very serious that people were making light of," she said.
At the time he e-mailed the threats, Napa already had come to the attention of officials at Nevada State College in Henderson, Nev., where he was taking classes, Frey said. He and another student had quarreled over a class presentation. The other student had told college officials that Napa warned her that her disrespect for his opinions was similar to what had set off the Tech shootings. Napa delivered the same warning to college officials, saying that he would not do anything himself, but that with the anniversary of the Tech killings approaching, others might.
Julia Dudley, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, handled Napa's case herself, playing Turk a recording of Huse's call to Blacksburg police shortly after receiving Napa's e-mail. Huse sounded distraught, saying, "I don't know if someone's trying to play a sick joke or what. ... I got an e-mail that says it's from Seung Cho."
Dudley also played an excerpt of "Ke Ke Ke," the rap song Napa put on his MySpace page. It apparently comes from an online game made about the Tech shootings.
Police traced the e-mails to a computer at Nevada State College, then arrested Napa on April 24, 2008. He had eight guns, ammunition and bulletproof jackets in the home he shared with his parents and adult siblings, said Thomas Gallagher, a special agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Napa's guns included a Glock model 19 and Walther P22 like those used by Cho.
All of the guns were legally purchased, and Napa had a permit to carry them concealed, Gallagher said.
Napa had bought six of his guns in a two-day period in December 2007. Gallagher said gun shop employees remembered Napa because when he went to the firing range to qualify for the weapons as required by Nevada law, he wore surgical gloves and carefully collected all his shell casings to take with him. The latter was something usually done only by people who reload ammunition, Gallagher said, but no reloading gear was found at Napa's home.
Napa had asked college officials about carrying a gun on campus and had been told he could not, Gallagher said. According to his professors, Napa often wore a bulletproof vest to class, he said.
Napa has been in custody since he was arrested. Spence said she will ask Turk to sentence him to time served, put him under the supervision of the federal probation office for five years and require treatment for mental illness during that supervision.
Dudley said she would ask for more prison time.