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How a tweet could send a man to prison for years

Monday afternoon, a Dallas County Grand Jury indicted John Rayne Rivello, 29, on a felony charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

DALLAS – None of it looks like deadly weapons, but two hands and one tweet could send a Maryland man to prison for aggravated assault.

"I think that's exactly what the state's alleging in this indictment. It's assault by Twitter," said Paul Saputo, a Dallas attorney.

Monday afternoon, a Dallas County grand jury indicted John Rayne Rivello, 29, on a felony charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Last Friday, the Department of Justice unveiled similar charges.

This case dates back to December 2016 after Kurt Eichenwald, a prominent Dallas-based author and journalist, revealed he has epilepsy.

Rivello got riled up about Eichenwald's online comments regarding President Trump, so the 29-year-old is accused of tweeting an animated GIF to Eichenwald which stated, "You deserve a seizure for your posts."

The actual tweet flashed different colors with a strobe effect and triggered a seizure in Eichenwald.

"Prison is definitely on the table,” added Saputo. “Prison is definitely on the table in both the federal charge and the state charge."

Saputo said this case could set a precedent.

"Whether Twitter is a deadly weapon is something that I would probably argue against. Now that doesn't get him out of the assault charge generally, but it might reduce that from a felony to a misdemeanor," said Saputo.

When reached by phone on Monday afternoon, Rivello's father wouldn't say anything.

For prosecutors, proving intent with the words from that tweet might not be that difficult. But weaponizing social media is a frontier the courts have yet to explore.

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