Court reverses conviction on online Obama threat

By PAUL ELIAS | July 19, 2011 | 4:15 PM EDT

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal appeals court has overturned the conviction of a San Diego man who authorities say posted Internet messages threatening Barack Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign.

A divided three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday ruled that Walter Bagdasarian's violent and racist screed against Obama was "repugnant" but not criminal.

Bagdasarian (Bag-duh-SAHR'-ee-uhn) was convicted in a lower court of two felony counts of threatening a major presidential candidate.

The panel says no "reasonable person" could have taken seriously Bagdasarian's posts to a Yahoo Finance message board in October 2008. The court also says his free speech rights protected him from prosecution.

One of the posts said the candidate would soon be shot in the head.

Bagdasarian has said he was drunk that night.