Micah Risner, 29, and his fiancée Nataleigh Schlette are accused of a truly bizarre crime in Ohio. Family members received pictures of a grotesque murder scene of Schlette. Risner then texted his sister to suggest that he had murdered Schlette. When police were called to the home, they found Schlette alive and the couple admitted that the whole thing was a moronic prank. The police were not laughing and the couple was charged with “inducing panic.”
This is one of the photos sent:
Risner then texted his sister Mimi and said “Please help me! I really didn’t mean to. I don’t remember. We was arguing and I woke up to this.” Mimi asked him if she was dead but her brother asked his sister to come and get him. She then reportedly advised him to cover up the murder: “Take your clothes and throw them in a dumpster far away.” She also told him to delete all of these messages.
The charge is relatively uncommon. Here is the relevant provision:
2917.31 Inducing panic.
(A) No person shall cause the evacuation of any public place, or otherwise cause serious public inconvenience or alarm, by doing any of the following:
(1) Initiating or circulating a report or warning of an alleged or impending fire, explosion, crime, or other catastrophe, knowing that such report or warning is false;
(2) Threatening to commit any offense of violence;
(3) Committing any offense, with reckless disregard of the likelihood that its commission will cause serious public inconvenience or alarm.
The question will be whether pranking your family constitutes “serious public inconvenience or alarm.” This was not posting on social media or the Internet. It appears included as a prank within the family — a remarkably stupid prank to be sure but one that was not directed to the public.
The police are clearly ticked off for good reason. However, do you believe that this warrants a criminal charge (particularly if none of the family members files a complaint)?