A federal appeals court in Manhattan on Wednesday ordered a resentencing for Juan Thompson, the former journalist whose threats to Jewish centers as part of a cyberstalking campaign against his ex-girlfriend set off fears of right-wing anti-Semitism after the 2016 election.
The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Manhattan U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel incorrectly concluded that Thompson’s stalking campaign violated an order of protection that had been served on him, ratcheting up the judge’s calculation of advisory sentencing guidelines.
Castel calculated that the guidelines called for 37 to 46 months in prison, and upwardly departed from that, sentencing Thompson to the maximum of 5 years. The Second Circuit said the right range is 30-37 months, and although Castel can still impose 5 years it isn’t “clear” that he will.
Thompson, 34, of St. Louis, had worked for the online news site The Intercept until he was fired for fabricating sources and quotes in 2016.
At his 2017 sentencing, his victim, Francesca Rossi, a Brooklyn social worker, said he unraveled, turning their relationship into a nightmare of revenge porn and vicious defamation spread on social media and to her family, friends and employer, calling her a “slut” and a drug dealer.
"I feared for my life every day,” she told Castel. “I'm still not convinced that he still won't try to kill me.”
During her nine-month ordeal, Rossi obtained an order of protection from a Brooklyn court. But the Second Circuit said he was never formally served, so Castel should not have relied on it in calculating the advisory guideline range.
The campaign included a bizarre series of a dozen hoax threats, some in her name, that were sent to Jewish community centers around the country — including one warning of a “Jewish Newtown” — that prosecutors said were part of his smear campaign.
In the aftermath of the 2016 election, before Thompson’s arrest, those threats fueled speculation and paranoia that Trump’s election had set off a wave of anti-Semitic violence.
Until the Second Circuit ruling, Thompson’s prison release date was Aug. 15, 2021. Castel has not set a date for his resentencing yet.