Man who threat­ened Chris Smith de­tained

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - FRONT PAGE - By Isaac Avilucea and Su­laiman Ab­dur Rah­man iav­ilucea@tren­to­nian.com su­laiman@tren­to­nian.com @IsaacAvilucea on Twit­ter

FREE­HOLD » With al­most five min­utes left in the game, and the out­come tee­ter­ing in the balance, Van­der­bilt cor­ner­back De­real Fin­klin re­cov­ered a Mar­cus Nash fum­ble to give his team a chance.

It was Dec. 1, 1996. And the Com­modores were in the midst of a down year. But there they were, down a touch­down, to the then-ninthranked team in all of col­lege foot­ball, the Ten­nessee Vol­un­teers, who were led by the es­timable Pey­ton Man­ning.

Fin­klin’s fum­ble re­cov­ery set up the Com­modores at the Ten­nessee 27, ac­cord­ing to an As­so­ci­ated Press story that re­counted the dra­mat­ics at the time.

Van­der­bilt couldn’t cap­i­tal­ize as quar­ter­back Damian Allen was picked off the next play at the 7-yard line, pretty much end­ing Vandy’s up­set bid.

It was Fin­klin’s se­nior year at Van­der­bilt. Af­ter some up­sand-downs dur­ing his col­lege years, which in­cluded a stay at a psy­chi­atric ward and his dis­missal from the team dur­ing his sopho­more year in 1994 for im­proper use of a credit card, the Vandy cor­ner­back was hope­ful.

He grad­u­ated with his bach­e­lor’s de­gree and had his eyes on the NFL.

But all his dreams came crash­ing down, fam­ily mem­bers said. His life since then has been a se­ries of mis­for­tune and bad choices, in­ter­spersed by the death of at least two loved ones that sent him on a down­ward spi­ral that has left fam­ily mem­bers wor­ry­ing about men­tal health.

In the years fol­low­ing his col­lege foot­ball ca­reer, Fin­klin, once a stand­out foot­ball and track star at Lake­wood High School, bat­tled job­less­ness and home­less­ness, been di­ag­nosed as bipo­lar and ended up on the wrong side of the law on a num­ber of theft con­vic­tions, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­views with fam­ily and friend said a search of on­line and court records.

He lost his wife. And now, he has lost his free­dom, at least for the time be­ing.

The ex-col­lege foot­ball player was or­dered de­tained by a judge Fri­day for al­legedly mak­ing deaths threats on Face­book against U.S. Rep. Chris Smith.

Fin­klin, 43, orig­i­nally of Pis­cat­away, faces third- and fourth-de­gree charges of mak­ing ter­ror­is­tic threats and cy­ber-bul­ly­ing, the most se­ri­ous which could send him away to the slam­mer for up to five years.

He was liv­ing with a friend in Prince­ton at the time he al­legedly posted a pic­ture of the con­gress­man next to the cap­tion “dead man walk­ing,” Mon­mouth County pros­e­cu­tors said at the de­ten­tion hear­ing be­fore Judge James McGann.

The Case

As­sis­tant Pros­e­cu­tor Martha Nye laid out in de­tail the case against Fin­klin, say­ing the al­leged threat against the con­gress­man was one of sev­eral alarm­ing on­line re­marks, some of which were di­rected to­ward school of­fi­cials at his alma mater Lake­wood High School.

Fin­klin sat, clean-shaven and stoic, through most of his hear­ing, only turn­ing up his face at a cou­ple of the prose­cu­tion’s sug­ges­tions.

Af­ter the hear­ing, friends and fam­ily ex­pressed shock over al­le­ga­tions Fin­klin al­legedly tar­geted the Re­pub­li­can pro-life con­gress­man who has rep­re­sented Mercer County in the Fourth Con­gres­sional District since 1981, say­ing they weren’t sure he even knew who Smith was.

Those close to Fin­klin de­scribed him as a learned man who ob­ses­sively read the Bi­ble.

He was in­tel­li­gent and aloof, apo­lit­i­cal and non-vi­o­lent.

One of Fin­klin’s 55-yearold friends, who hung out with him al­most daily for the last year, said she couldn’t re­call ever talk­ing to him about the con­gress­man or hav­ing a sin­gle dis­cus­sion about Smith’s stance on abortion.

“And we talked about every­thing,” said the woman, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity. “The big­gest is­sue that was on his mind was racial dis­crim­i­na­tion of ath­letes.”

Nye said the threat against the con­gress­man rep­re­sented only a sliver of a “pat­tern” of bizarre and in­co­her­ent so­cial me­dia rants, some aimed at school of­fi­cials in at least two mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties where Fin­klin ap­pears to have con­nec­tions.

Fin­klin was also ap­par­ently up­set that a Bridge­wa­ter soccer coach had done his daugh­ter wrong, his friend said, and she saw posts of him rant­ing about it on­line.

But Nye seized pri­mar­ily on two Face­book posts Fin­klin al­legedly made un­der an alias “Israel Bay.”

Au­thor­i­ties be­came aware of the posts through one of Fin­klin’s high school friends who was friends with him on Face­book.

She grew alarmed over the posts and con­tacted au­thor­i­ties. The posts came to the at­ten­tion of a re­tired state po­lice de­tec­tive, and later, Mon­mouth pros­e­cu­tors.

Au­thor­i­ties ini­tially had trou­ble lo­cat­ing Fin­klin, who pros­e­cu­tors de­scribed as “transient,” be­fore track­ing him down in Mid­dle­sex County af­ter they had his ser­vice provider live-ping his cell­phone, pros­e­cu­tors said.

He was cir­cling the track at a park in Dunellen, a bor­ough of Mid­dle­sex County, part of his nor­mal daily work­out reg­i­men, when cops picked him up, his friend said.

She said she got an odd text from him telling her the au­thor­i­ties picked him up on a war­rant but, for some rea­son, wanted him to sub­mit to a men­tal health eval­u­a­tion at Rut­gers.

“I was start­ing to get wor­ried,” she said.

She im­me­di­ately thought of his Face­book posts.

‘Dead Man Walk­ing’

The one au­thor­i­ties ze­roed in on pre­ceded the “dead man walk­ing” post and al­legedly said, “Any­one out­side of my blood from Mon­mouth and Ocean County on my Face­book ac­count, you are dead.”

Fin­klin’s at­tor­ney, Regina Ruocco, dis­missed that her client had threat­ened the con­gress­man when he posted a pic­ture of Smith next to the cap­tion “dead man walk­ing #Amer­i­can #New Jersey.”

She called the com­ments “po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary” pro­tected by the First Amend­ment.

“That does not rise to the level of threat­ing to kill any­one,” she said.

Call­ing out Fin­klin’s Face­book friends and au­thor­i­ties for jump­ing to con­clu­sions over what the for­mer col­lege foot­ball player meant, Ruocco cited a poem ti­tled “Dead Man Walk­ing” by Thomas Hardy and dis­cussed how it was about some­one who was “spir­i­tu­ally dead.”

Dead Man Walk­ing was also the name of a movie, she added, based off a book writ­ten by Sis­ter He­len Pre­jean, a Louisianan nun who has been a staunch ad­vo­cate for abol­ish­ing the death penalty.

“That com­monly refers to sit­u­a­tions where a jailer would be walk­ing a con­demned pris­oner down the tier of the jail to the ex­e­cu­tion cham­ber,” Ruocco said. “And that jailer would say to the other pris­on­ers, ‘dead man walk­ing,’ so they know it was the per­son’s fi­nal walk.”

The de­fense at­tor­ney called the phrase a com­mon “id­iom” for some­one in an “un­ten­able”

posi­ton. Or, used in a po­lit­i­cal con­text, she said, it de­scribed some­one who was a “lame duck” like the con­gress­man who is up for re-elec­tion in Novem­ber.

Nye dis­missed Fin­klin’s at­tor­ney’s “cre­ative” ex­pla­na­tion as bunk and said the phrase had a “com­mon­sense” mean­ing that put the con­gress­man in “im­mi­nent” fear for his life.

She brought up Fin­klin’s crim­i­nal past, which in­cludes theft con­vic­tions in New Jersey and Ten­nessee but none for vi­o­lence.

Nye also at­tempted to paint Fin­klin as an un­hinged ex­trem­ist, men­tion­ing ties to at least one “fringe” group of sov­er­eign cit­i­zens and men­tioned some­thing about him chang­ing his name.

Gwen­dolyn Fox, Fin­klin’s aunt, re­called her nephew changed his name to “some fake African name” a few years back to con­nect with his roots.

“We don’t talk about that,” she said. “To me, it’s non­sense.”

What wasn’t non­sense, the judge felt, were the threats.

McGann sided with pros­e­cu­tors in de­tain­ing Fin­klin, who was rec­om­mended for re­lease based off a risk as­sess­ment per­formed by pre­trial ser­vices.

He felt the for­mer col­lege foot­ball player was a “present” dan­ger to the con­gress­man and po­ten­tially oth­ers.

De­real Fin­klin, left, talks with pub­lic de­fender Regina Ruocco. Fin­klin, 43, charged with mak­ing ter­ror­is­tic threats against U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, ap­pears in state Su­pe­rior Court in Free­hold on Fri­day for a de­ten­tion hear­ing.

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