95 minutes decision

In Third Trial, Blogger Found Guilty of Threatening 7th Circuit Judges

A Brooklyn federal jury has found blogger and Internet-radio shock jock Harold "Hal" Turner guilty of threatening to kill three judges from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

After two mistrials, the third jury needed only 95 minutes to reach a decision.

Turner was arrested in June 2009 after writing on his blog that Judges Richard Posner, William Bauer and Frank Easterbrook "deserve to be killed" for their opinion in N.R.A. v. Chicago, 08-4241, which upheld handgun bans in Chicago and Oak Park, Ill.

"If they are allowed to get away with this by surviving, other judges will act the same way," Turner wrote. "Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty ... A small price to pay to assure freedom for millions."

Turner, a white supremacist who hosted a weekly webcast from his North Bergen, N.J., home, also posted the judges' photographs, work addresses and phone numbers.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois charged Turner on a single count, threatening to kill the judges to intimidate them in their official capacity.

The case, United States v. Turner, 09-cr-00650, was assigned to Judge Donald Walter of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, who was sitting in Chicago by assignment.

Walter granted Turner's motion to move the case closer to his home and farther from the Chicago federal judges' own courthouse, and it was transferred to Brooklyn.

Turner I was held in December 2009. The three allegedly threatened judges did not testify, and the jury deadlocked 9-3.

On his way out of the courthouse, one juror complained that the prosecution should have called more witnesses.

For Turner II, the three judges flew out from Chicago and took the stand, testifying before a packed courtroom about their reactions to Turner's posts.

"A principal concern was that somebody would try to come kill me or shoot me or blow me up," Easterbrook said at the second trial.

The jury again deadlocked, though this time the vote was not disclosed.

After the second jury was released, Turner's defense counsel, Michael Orozco, announced that he and his co-counsel, Chicago solo-practitioner Nishay Kumar Sanan, had been fired.

For round three, both sides were led by new counsel. Peter Kirchheimer, chief of the Brooklyn Federal Defenders Office, took over Turner's defense.

Chicago Assistant U.S. Attorneys Diane MacArthur and William Ridgway took over for William R. Hogan Jr.

The trial began on Tuesday, the three federal judges took the stand on Wednesday and the case went to the jury at 1:45 p.m. on Friday. By 3:20 p.m., the jurors had shared a pizza and come to a unanimous decision.

The jury was so quick to find that Turner's postings constituted a threat that the verdict was rendered and the jurors were polled and dismissed before reporters or Turner's family could make it back up to the courtroom.

Turner, 48, was immediately remanded to federal custody. He will be held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn until sentencing. He passed his black belt and yellow tie to a marshal, who gave them to Turner's teary son, Michael, 16.

Turner's mother, Kathy Diamond, who attended all three trials along with Turner's wife and son, stormed out of the courtroom.

Following the verdict, the attorneys abided by the judge's gag order not to speak to the press during the trial, but Diamond did not.

"There goes the First Amendment for everybody," Diamond said. "This was not justice doing the right thing ... I think [the judges'] job is to protect the Constitution, not to shred it behind closed doors."

In a statement released Friday, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Patrick J. Fitzgerald said, "There is no place in society for threatening federal judges with violence. Period. We are grateful that the jury saw these threats for what they were and rejected any notion that they were acceptable speech."

Turner faces a maximum sentence of 10 years and a maximum fine of $250,000.

Walter did not set a date for sentencing.

(Published by Law - August 16, 2010)

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