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BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Jurors were told to continue working today after they said they were divided on whether hate blogger Hal Turner is guilty of threatening judges.
“We are hopelessly deadlocked,” the jury wrote in a note around 3:30 p.m. after deliberating for less than three hours. “Time will not change our vote.”
But U.S. District Judge Donald Walter urged jurors to keep trying to reach a verdict, and they returned to their deliberations.
This morning, the jury appeared to listen intently as both sides presented their closing statements. As they did throughout the trial, the defense portrayed Turner as an outrageous but harmless radio personality betrayed by the government he’d served when he was an FBI informant. “Giving your opinion is not a crime,” said Turner’s Chicago-based lawyer Nishay Sanan. “To criticize the judiciary is not a crime. To do it passionately is not a crime. To be a shock jock is not a crime.”
Prosecutors repeated their contention that Turner was trying to intimidate three federal judges when he told the white supremacist readers of his blog that the men “deserve to be killed” and posted their work addresses. “He thinks it’s a threat, he knows it’s a threat, and every reasonable person ought to also come to what I would suggest is a blindingly obvious conclusion,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney William Hogan.
The jury, which includes several racial minorities, began deliberating shortly after 12:30 p.m. today. They will decide whether Turner is guilty of threatening to assault and murder the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges as a result of blog entries he posted on his website in June. If convicted, Turner would face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The defense’s and prosecution’s delivery of their closing arguments differed markedly from each other: The defense gave an impassioned speech that appealed to the jury’s belief in the First Amendment, while prosecutors methodically guided jurors through the legal standards they felt they’d met for proving Turner’s guilt.
Prosecutors said Turner used his blog to threaten the judges because he disagreed with their decision upholding a handgun ban. “This is the essence of the case: Obey my version of what I think the constitution is or I will intimidate and retaliate against you,” Hogan said during closing statements.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Ridgeway showed a photo of the federal building where the judges worked. Turner had added arrows pointing to “anti-truck bomb barriers” before posting it on June 3. “The violence the defendant is implying really couldn’t be more clear,” Ridgeway said.
The prosecution emphasized that Turner’s post criticizing the three judges mentioned the murder of their colleague’s family. The June 2 post asserted that the “court didn’t get the hint after these killings” of Chicago federal judge Joan Lefkow’s mother and husband and “it appears another lesson is needed.” Turner exploited the tragedy in an attempt to instill fear, Ridgeway said. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Ridgeway said, “it doesn’t get much closer to home for these judges than the reference to Judge Lefkow.” (A white supremacist was convicted in 2004 for soliciting Lefkow’s killing, but the 2005 murder of Lefkow’s husband and mother were unrelated to the movement.) Prosecutors also said Turner was aware that the readers of his blog were capable of violence. “The defendant knows that the publication of this information poses danger,” Ridgeway said.
But Sanan, the defense attorney, noted that Turner twice called Lefkow “worthy of death,” yet was never prosecuted because his words did not amount to an illegal threat. He questioned why Turner was being prosecuted now for a similar statement. “The only way it becomes a threat is if you live inside their vacuum,” he said, gesturing toward the prosecution.
The FBI would not have allowed Turner to be a confidential informant if they thought he was dangerous, Sanan said. Even his radio show listeners don’t take him seriously, Sanan said after reading a comment from one of them. “They think he’s a joke. He’s all talk and no action.” Sanan suggested that Turner is being prevented from expressing his opinion because he’s no longer an FBI informant. “The government is trying to take away his voice,” Sanan said. “The law requires you to give him his voice back.”
Turner, who was sitting at the defense table, nodded when Sanan said the First Amendment protects vehement criticism of public figures, including federal judges. He whispered to his attorneys several times while prosecutors were speaking. He seemed to be in good spirits, even whistling when he briefly returned to a nearly empty courtroom this afternoon with his wife and son. Turner’s brother and mother were also in attendance.
With the jury about to deliberate, the prosecution asked the judge to dismiss a juror who’d said — after jury selection was complete — that he wasn’t sure if he could be impartial because of his strong belief in the First Amendment. The juror also said he remembered reading about Turner while doing legal research. The prosecution said if they’d had that information they would have used one of their preemptory challenges to strike him; the defense wanted him to remain on the jury.
“He has been a most attentive juror,” said Judge Walter, who seemed perplexed about what to do. He noted that juror said he could follow the judge’s interpretation of the law even if it conflicted of his own.
“I see the arguments on both sides and they’re both good,” Walter said. After a moment’s pause, he made his decision: “Tie goes to the defendant. [The juror] stays.”