Off Limits

What a tangled Web we weave
Last Tuesday, the legal naysayers piled on attorney Ellis Rubin, who said that his client, one Michael Ian Campbell, was suffering from Internet intoxication when, on December 15, he had the following exchange (as Soup81, a play on his last name and the year of his birth) on AOL with a Columbine student:

Soup81: Do me a favor, don't go to school tomorrow

Gingerhrts: why?

Soup81: Please, I trust in you and confide in you

Gingerhrts: I have to go I can't miss school

Soup81: I need to finish what begun and if you go I don't want your blood on my hands.

Gingerhrts: Please don't do this you are really scaring me

Soup81: There is nothing to be scared about, just don't go to school and don't tell anyone. If anyone finds out, you'll be the first to go

Gingerhrts: please don't do this

Soup81: TIMES magazine has brought more chaos and I need to strengthen this...

Gingerhrts: Please don't do this you are really scaring me.

Soup81: Goodbye. Good to evil and evil to good.

Soup81's little chat was enough to earn Florida resident Campbell a grand-jury indictment for transmitting in interstate commerce "a communication containing a threat to injure the person of another."

But the threat wasn't real, Rubin argued the day before Campbell appeared in Denver to answer the charges. (Today covered the cost of Campbell's trip to Colorado, in exchange for an exclusive interview on January 11.) It was made in a "virtual" world, not the real world, Rubin said, inspired by an "intoxication" with the Internet.

Critics were quick to point out that Rubin had used a similar defense twenty years ago, when he claimed a client had "television intoxication" from watching too many Kojak episodes.

But anyone looking for evidence that the Internet can indeed be intoxicating need look no further than front-page headlines on papers across the country and the lead-in to numerous TV newscasts on the same day that Rubin's defense theory was so thoroughly mocked. Judging from the ebullient coverage of the AOL deal to acquire Time Warner, the entire world is punch-drunk over the Web.

This from Steve Case, AOL's chairman: "This really is an historic moment. This merger will launch the next Internet revolution."

"This really completes the digital transformation of Time Warner," chimed in Time Warner's Gerald Levin, awed by the deal's synergy. "These two companies are a natural fit."

And a heady fit at that: The $166 billion deal ties together AOL -- on whose service the intoxicated Campbell delivered his virtual threat -- with Time Warner, which publishes the very publication, Time, whose Columbine story is referenced in Campbell's little chat. Synergy, indeed.

Quality education
Jeff Shapiro just can't stay away from Boulder. The then-"investigative reporter" for the Globe tabloid who landed in the People's Republic in early 1997 along with the rest of the media world -- and wound up getting cited by police for harassing a friend of John and Patsy Ramsey, searching his soul and then accusing his editor of ethics violations in front of the world, the FBI and God -- is now a substitute teacher for the Boulder Valley School District. So far, Shapiro has taught in a number of schools and at all levels, says district spokeswoman Barbara Taylor, who agrees that Shapiro has a somewhat notorious reputation around town -- one that's bound to become even more notorious when Perfect Murder, Perfect Town airs late next month. "The state issues teacher licenses or substitute teacher licenses and they do all the background checks, and they issued him a license," Taylor says. "I think what we will do is check in with the folks that he subbed for and see if it's an issue."

Shapiro -- who was dropped by the Globe about a year ago and has since done freelance stories for the Denver Post and Time magazine in addition to working at Blockbuster video -- was cited by Boulder police in 1997 after he showed up at the mountain home of a Ramsey family friend. The charge was dropped from his permanent record after he successfully completed one year of probation. Shapiro later turned on his employer and told the FBI that he was ordered to do what he did by his editor, Craig Lewis. Last month, Lewis was indicted by the Jefferson County grand jury on charges of criminal bribery for his reported attempt to buy a copy of the ransom note.

Taylor says she won't address the quality of Shapiro's character or whether he's an appropriate choice to be a substitute teacher until after she has researched the situation.

Shapiro, who is not from Boulder, did not want to comment.

So, kids, what did YOU learn in school today?

If you have a tip for Off Limits, call Jonathan Shikes at 303-293-3555.

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