PROVO, Utah (AP) — A man who posted a Facebook message threatening to kill "as many girls as I see" in retaliation for years of romantic rejection was sentenced Thursday to up to five years in prison.
Judge Christine Johnson's decision to keep Christopher W. Cleary, 27, of Denver, behind bars in Utah went against a recommendation from Cleary's attorney and prosecutors to sentence him to probation so he could be returned to Colorado to serve prison time there for probation violations.
Johnson said the incident clearly warranted prison time and that she didn't feel comfortable relying on Colorado to keep Cleary locked up. She said Utah's board of pardons can decide if Cleary should be transferred to Colorado.
Cleary's Facebook threat came hours before women marched through many U.S. cities in January, stoking fears of another deadly rampage by a man blaming women for his problems. Cleary called himself a virgin who never had a girlfriend. When police tracked his cellphone and arrested him at a McDonald's restaurant in Provo, Utah, Cleary said he had been upset and wasn't thinking clearly.
Cleary spoke only briefly at the sentencing, saying quietly, "I'm just sorry for what happened."
His actions fit a pattern of behavior for a troubled man with a history of terrorizing women he met over the internet. At least eight people since 2012 have contacted authorities to accuse Cleary of stalking or harassing them, according to an Associated Press review of police and court records.
His attorney, Dustin Parmley, said Cleary was ashamed of his actions and has long had issues controlling his impulses to say inappropriate things. He said Cleary had a troubled childhood and was diagnosed with mental health issues at age 10, though he didn't elaborate. Parmley said Cleary bounced between group homes and mental health hospitals during his childhood.
Parmley said police did the right thing in taking the threat seriously but noted Cleary has never followed through on his threats with physical violence.
"The threats were made in very vague and nonspecific terms," Parmley said.
Cleary pleaded guilty in April to a reduced charge of attempted threat of terrorism, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. As part of the deal, prosecutors agreed to recommend probation, which would have spared him any additional jail time in Utah beyond the months he's served since his Jan. 19 arrest.
Deputy Utah County Attorney Douglas Finch called Cleary a "disturbing young man" but said he was fine with the agreement because Colorado prosecutors indicated they would make sure Cleary would serve prison time in that state.
Cleary was still on probation in Jefferson County, Colorado, when he was arrested in Utah. Pam Russell, a spokeswoman for the county prosecutor's office, said earlier this week that prosecutors would seek to revoke his probation and request a "significant" prison sentence in Colorado after the Utah case was concluded. He could face up to 17 years in prison in Colorado for three stalking cases, Russell said.
"We want to have him returned to Colorado as quickly as possible," Russell said Thursday.
Among the complaints against Cleary in Colorado were reports that he threatened to bomb a grocery store in 2013 after an employee refused to cash his check; that he threatened to slit the throat of a Denver city employee after his car was towed; and that he threatened a mass shooting at a mental health facility during a 2016 phone call.
Cleary was on probation for a marijuana conviction when, in 2016, he was charged with stalking two 18-year-old women he met online. He was on probation and in mental health court for the stalking cases when he was charged in 2017 with stalking and harassing a third woman who was Cleary's caseworker. Last year, judges in Jefferson County, Colorado, sentenced him to probation in all three stalking cases.
Cleary also has a warrant for his arrest in Denver, where a 17-year-old told police in 2015 that he sent her a string of threatening text messages, including: "I own multiple guns I can have u dead in a second."
Associated Press writers Michael Kunzelman in College Park, Maryland, Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia, and Colleen Slevin in Denver contributed to this report.