PHOENIX (AP) — A prosecutor told jurors Wednesday that a man on trial for carrying out a terrorism hoax in Phoenix last summer could have gotten his 16-year-old nephew killed when he sent him into a street with a fake grenade launcher as he filmed the masked teen pointing it at passing vehicles during rush-hour traffic.
Filmmaker Michael David Turley, 40, is charged with endangerment and engaging in a criminal hoax for the mock terrorism scenario on a busy intersection in northwest Phoenix on July 28. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Lawyers made their opening statements Wednesday at Turley's trial. If convicted of both charges, Turley would face penalties ranging from probation to more than five years in prison.
Prosecutor Michael Anderson said the costume worn by the nephew, whose body was draped in a sheet and whose head was wrapped in a scarf, was intended to evoke the worst stereotype of a Middle Eastern terrorist. "As you would expect, people started calling 911," Anderson said, adding that some motorists who saw the teen with the fake launcher had discussions about whether they should run him over.
Recordings of 911 calls also showed that some people who saw the 16-year-old told authorities that they assumed the weapon was a fake.
Turley's attorney, Brad Rideout, said no one was injured and no vehicles wrecked as a result of the hoax.
Still, Rideout said it was foolish for his client to send his nephew into a potentially dangerous situation. "I am not going to insult your intelligence and tell you this was a bright idea," said Turley's attorney, Brad Rideout.
Jurors stoically watched a video of the hoax that Turley posted on YouTube.
During the video, a narrator identified by police as Turley said he wanted to see how long it took authorities to respond to a terrorist situation and mentioned a movie theater shooting two weeks earlier that killed 12 people in Aurora, Colo.
The teenager carried the fake launcher on his shoulder as he made his way across a crosswalk. The narrator said the teen wanted to appear as intimidating as possible in hopes that people would call police.
The video also showed the first police officer to arrive on the scene, finding the 16-year-old standing in his uncle's driveway. The officer calmly told the teenager to put down the weapon and Turley to put down the camera. The officer didn't draw his gun.
Rideout said the video was shot after Turley and his nephew had played a video game in which one character wears a turban and carries a grenade launcher.
Turley's arrest came nearly two months after the hoax. Police left the scene that day without making any arrests. But Turley was later arrested after police interviewed people who called emergency services and later saw the video posted on YouTube.