Assault By Twitter Picture Case Heads to Trial

With very little fanfare, the felony aggravated assault trial of John Rayne Rivello gets underway in a Dallas County courtroom next week. Rivello is accused of assaulting reporter, author and political activist Kurt Eichenwald, by way of a Twitter picture, on December 15, 2016.

Rivello, using an antisemitic-themed Twitter account, tagged Eichenwald in a flashing GIF image with a message "you deserve a seizure for your posts". Eichenwald claims that upon viewing the image, he suffered an eight minute epileptic seizure.

The seizure was allegedly witnessed by Eichenwald's wife, Dr. Theresa Pearse, an internal medicine doctor. It is unclear if Eichenwald required hospitalization for the seizure. Records do not indicate that police or EMS were dispatched to Eichenwald's residence the evening of the assault.

Dallas police records do indicate that officers were dispatched six days later to Eichenwald's residence on December 21 to take a report of "assault on an elderly or disabled victim - bodily injury only" and that the "suspect sent email that caused [Eichenwald] to have seizure".

Rivello was arrested by the FBI in late March, 2017 and charged with cyberstalking. Those charges were dropped, at the request of the US Attorney, in November, 2017.

A grand jury in Dallas County indicted Rivello on March 20, 2017 for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon--a second degree felony. The indictment noted that Eichenwald was "succeptible to seizures" and states that Rivello "did use and exhibit a deadly weapon, to-wit: a Tweet and a Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) and an Electronic Device and Hands, during the commission of the assault."

The District Attorney's office re-indicted Rivello, December 6, on a charge of Aggravated Assault Causing Serious Bodily Injury. The prosecution has subpoenaed Eichenwald's wife and son as well as Dallas neurologist Robert Leroy, and Dr. Peter Simi, a Chapman University sociologist and expert on hate crimes.

The assault-by-Twitter-picture trial gets underway in Dallas County Criminal District Court #5 (Judge Carter Thompson) on December 16.