Graduate accused of Twitter threats pleads not guilty

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Kayla-Simone McKelvey speaks at a protest in March 2015. She would later face charges for allegedly making online threats against students at a rally in November of last year. Credit: Rebecca Panico

By: Rebecca Panico | Published Feb. 10, 2016

A black Kean graduate charged with making death threats against black students on Twitter in November pleaded not guilty and is now seeking entry into a probation program, her lawyer said.

Kayla-Simone McKelvey was charged with a third degree count of making a false public alarm after allegedly making Twitter threats against Kean students, and then returning to spread the word about it at a rally meant to raise awareness about racial issues.

At a hearing on Jan. 28, McKelvey applied for the Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) Program, which could result in an expunged record. McKelvey pleaded not guilty at her first hearing on Dec. 14, said her lawyer Thomas Ashley.

McKelvey declined to comment on Dec. 22 in an email to The Tower, simply stating, “No thank you.”

“She’s trying to go on with her life,” Ashley, who has also represented clients such as former Newark Mayor Sharpe James, said earlier this month. “She’s doing what young people do: She’s looking for a job…and now she’s just trying to go on with her life and obtain employment.”

“She’s, of course, very apologetic about what happened,” he added.

The PTI program is generally applied to first-time offenders, according to the New Jersey Courts’ website. PTI functions on a rehabilitative model, which recognizes that social, cultural, and economic conditions often result in a defendant’s decision to commit crime.

READ MORE: Shaky allegations made at March protest on campus

Applying for PTI is “no acknowledgement of guilt or criminal activity,” her lawyer said in a phone interview.

“You do not have to plead guilty to get PTI,” explained Sandra Thaler-Gerber, Union County Superior Court’s press liaison. “It is not a required condition to get into PTI. However, sometimes the prosecutor can make it a condition.”

Mark Spivey, a spokesperson for the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, stated that McKelvey’s plea remains unchanged, and that “her application for PTI will be ruled by the supervisor of the PTI program.”

Kean students weighed in on her charges and subsequent plea, like 19-year-old Onel Martinez, a freshman business major.

“She could say whatever she likes,” said Martinez. “But if she acted on it, that’s a different story.”

Martinez stated that he attended class the next day even after hearing about the threats — which claimed that a bomb was on campus and threatened to shoot black students — because of the increased police activity on campus.

“If there was police around the campus why should I be afraid?” Martinez said. “Since, first of all, this attack wasn’t made towards me, and second of all, if I were to succumb to terrorism… then that is actually what they want.”

A second student, Joe Tredici, said he came to class because his parents “would’ve yelled at me,” yet he felt differently about McKelvey’s plea and charges.

READ MORE: Students, rally organizers react to McKelvey charges

“I think pleading not guilty is kind of stupid for her,” said Tredici, a 19-year-old freshman sociology student. “She did it, everyone knows she did it, and it would be better to just confess to it.”

“I think she should’ve been charged with terrorism,” he added, “because it instilled terror into students and faculty at Kean. And I mean, some classes were cancelled… and some people didn’t feel safe enough coming to class on campus.”

The spokesperson for the Union County Prosecutor’s Office said it does not comment on charges when asked why McKelvey wasn’t charged with making terroristic threats.

McKelvey’s next court appearance is March 2 in Union County Superior Court.

Rebecca Panico may be reached at panicore@kean.edu. Follow The Tower on Twitter@KeanTower. Find The Tower on Facebook.


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