New Jersey man ordered back to prison after Alpine threats, probation violations

ALPINE — An appeals court in Philadelphia last week upheld a prison sentence for a New Jersey man who pleaded guilty to calling in bomb threats and threatening public figures in Alpine back in 2016.

The defendant in that case — Nicholas Kyle Martino, 21 — initially got probation for those charges, which involved him threatening Alpine institutions and a local politician almost immediately after the Alpine High School shooting in 2016. But just months after his sentencing for those offenses, the feds took him back to court because they said he was violating the terms of his release.

In court filings from July 2018, authorities outlined some of Martino’s alleged probation violations, of which there are at least 11 in total. First off, authorities said Martino was still using an unmonitored internet connection and a clandestine Google Voice number to continue harassing and threatening people.

Among other violations outlined in those court filings, authorities said Martino had been stalking a Wisconsin woman by calling her more than 100 times in a single day, hacking her Facebook account and trying to hack her phone. They also accused him of a range of other violations and crimes, including making threats and other inappropriate calls to police departments in Wisconsin and New Jersey.

The crimes that first landed Martino in hot water happened in the Big Bend back in September 2016. That month, tragedy struck Alpine after a shooting at Alpine High School.

On September 8, a 14-year-old student at the school shot and injured another student before killing herself. Multiple law enforcement agencies responded to the scene — and in the ensuing chaos, a Homeland Security agent was shot by a member of the U.S. Marshals Service and life-flighted to Odessa.

Further adding to the chaos, Martino, then 17, picked that same day to start calling and threatening officials and institutions in Alpine. As local law enforcement were trying to respond to the high school shooting, “some nut” called Brewster County sheriff’s dispatch to say that, “If you think what happened at the school is bad, wait till you see what happens at Sul Ross,” Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson told Texas Monthly after the shooting.

In that call, according to court filings, Martino told authorities he was heading to Sul Ross State University with a bomb and was “not afraid” to use it — forcing authorities to shift their attention to the university while they were already trying to deal with a school shooting.

The threats didn’t stop there, though. Later the same day, Martino called Big Bend Regional Medical Center and threatened to “kill everyone in the f—ing hospital,” according to court filings. That put authorities in the position of having to respond to multiple confirmed or possible crime scenes, including at Alpine High School, SRSU and BBRMC.

Days later, Martino also used Twitter to send more threats to Sul Ross State University and to Pete Gallego, who was then a former Congressman and is now also president of SRSU. In a first batch of tweets, he said he wanted to kill Gallego and was “sending a 20mm pipe bomb” to an on-campus P.O. Box. He tagged both Gallego and the United States Postal Service in those tweets.

In another tweet later that day, he said he was “getting an AR15 and AK47” with the intent of killing Gallego. “I will kill @PeteGallego and his family,” Martino said in that tweet, according to court records. Authorities arrested him at his New Jersey home in December.

What reason did Martino, then a teenager living in New Jersey, have to terrorize residents in the Big Bend region? No reason in particular, prosecutors argued in court filings.

Instead, they pointed out that Martino had started harassing local law enforcement officials less than an hour after the Alpine shooting made national news. He was intentionally trying to sow chaos, they argued.

Martino “likely decided to call the local sheriff after seeing information about the shooting and likely decided to call the hospital when he saw that a shooting victim was taken there,” The Big Bend Sentinel reported in 2017, citing statements from the U.S. attorney’s office. And as for Gallego, authorities believe he earned Martino’s ire after Gallego “spoke on television describing whoever was making the threats as mentally ill.”

In the years and months since, Martino’s case has seen a number of twists and turns. In February 2017, Martino — then still 17 — pleaded guilty as an adult to four felony counts of making interstate threats. In April, a federal judge in Midland released him with five years’ probation and credit for time served.

But then Martino’s alleged probation violations started — and within months after his trial, authorities started trying to get him back in prison.

That case, which has been going on since at least October 2017, has also seen its own twists. This summer, for example, Martino asked for new lawyers, then asked to represent himself.

But judges threw out those requests — and last week, with the case having made it all the way to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, Martino has mostly exhausted his legal options (except for the Supreme Court, which is unlikely to hear his case). The court upheld Martino’s sentence of three years in prison and two years of supervised release, though at press time it was not immediately clear how much of that sentence Martino has already served. Now 21, he’s currently incarcerated at a federal prison in New Jersey, according to records from the Bureau of Prisons.