Defense Analysis of Gun in Online Threats Case Shows Rifle Didn’t Function

David Lenio allegedly brought guns to home after Twitter posts about shooting school children

By Tristan Scott
David Joseph Lenio peers around his attorney at the prosecution after he pleaded not guilty in Flathead County District Court on March 19, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

One of the guns collected as evidence against a Kalispell man who made online threats about shooting school children did not function, according to forensic analysis, a finding the man’s defense attorney says undermines the prosecution’s theory that the Internet posts were intended as a “true threat.”

David Joseph Lenio was arrested Feb. 16 after authorities learned he’d made threats about shooting school children and Jewish religious leaders on the social media platform Twitter. He was subsequently charged with criminal defamation, a charge that was later dropped, and felony intimidation, for which he is scheduled to stand trial in January.

Following Lenio’s arrest, Kalispell Police Chief Roger Nasset said the man posed “a very real threat,” adding that when investigators learned Lenio had transported guns from a storage unit to his home, the threat escalated.

After obtaining a search warrant for Lenio’s residence, authorities found a 9-mm semi-automatic Luger carbine rifle and a Russian bolt-action rifle, in addition to a .32-caliber semi-automatic pistol and ammunition inside his vehicle.

In a recent defense motion to exclude evidence and testimony at trial, Public Defender Brent Getty argued that an analysis by the Montana Forensic Science Division revealed that the 9-mm rifle was missing parts and “did not function as received.”

Getty said the court should preclude the introduction of evidence and witness testimony suggesting that Lenio had been moving or gathering a “cache of weapons,” a term widely used in media reports quoting the Maryland man who discovered the threatening Twitter posts, Jonathan Hutson, who at the time worked as a spokesperson for the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence.

“It has now been established as fact that the rifle ‘does not function as received,’” Getty wrote. “Therefore, any relevance of the rifle and its movement undermines the state’s petition and has the tendency to show that it was less probable that Mr. Lenio’s Twitter communications were intended as ‘true threats.’”

Last week, Deputy Flathead County Attorney Stacy Boman wrote in a court filing that the prosecution would not use the term “cache of weapons.” However, Boman wrote that the state “does intend to present evidence regarding the firearms found in Defendant’s possession and evidence regarding Defendant retrieving a firearm and bringing it to his residence.”

Hutson filed his own response to Getty’s motion, arguing that the phrase “cache of weapons” is accurate and should be permissible at trial.