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Threats to Three U.S. Judges Leads to Conviction in Third Trial

After three trials, a jury convicted Internet radio host and blogger Hal Turner of threatening the lives of three U.S. appeals-court judges.

Turner, 48, was found guilty by a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York, of a single count of threatening in Internet postings to assault and murder the judges because he disagreed with one of their rulings. That was the only count he faced. The jury deliberated for less than two hours and the judge ordered Turner taken into custody. Two previous juries had deadlocked.

“There goes the First Amendment for everybody,” Turner’s mother, Kathy Diamond, said after the verdict. “Since when does words mean you threatened to kill somebody?”

Prosecutors said Turner, of North Bergen, New Jersey, threatened judges Frank Easterbrook, Richard Posner and William Bauer in website postings because of their June 2009 ruling upholding handgun bans in Chicago and Oak Park, Illinois. A lower court previously dismissed a legal challenge to the ordinances by the National Rifle Association. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the handgun bans on June 28.

Turner faces a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. His lawyer Peter Kirchheimer declined to comment after the verdict.

‘Hate Speech, Love Speech’

“You can’t threaten violence against people,” Assistant U.S. Attorney William Ridgway told jurors in his closing argument yesterday. “You can use hate speech, love speech and anything in between. But threats are not protected by the First Amendment.”

Turner’s case was moved from Illinois to Brooklyn to ensure a fair trial. Two earlier trials in Brooklyn ended with hung juries in March and December. U.S. District Judge Donald E. Walter of Louisiana presided over the trial.

Lawyers from U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s office in Chicago prosecuted Turner, with Ridgway and Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane MacArthur handling the trial that ended yesterday. The three judges testified as government witnesses.

“There is no place in society for threatening federal judges with violence. Period,” Fitzgerald said in a statement yesterday.

“It’s a threat,” Posner testified Aug. 11. “It’s an invitation: ‘Go kill these devils,’ as he describes us later.”

Turner used his Web site to post the judges’ names, as well as their photographs and work addresses, and a map of their courthouse.

‘Deserve to Be Killed’

“Let me be the first to say this plainly: These judges deserve to be killed,” Turner wrote of the appeals court panel in a Web posting. “Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty. A small price to pay to assure freedom for millions.”

Prosecutors claim Turner wrote approvingly on his blog of the February 2005 slaying of U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow’s husband and mother by a disgruntled litigant. The killer, Bart Ross, later shot himself in his car and left a suicide note.

“Hope you think your job was worth what it seems to have cost you,” Turner wrote, according to prosecutors. “Every other federal judge should take a good hard look. White people are tired of being pushed around by this government. We are slow to anger, but when we reach our limit, it isn’t pretty.”

Turner testified at the trial that he served as a Federal Bureau of Investigation informant from 2003 to 2007 and had alerted the government to threats against President Barack Obama. Turner said the FBI explained to him how far he could go in his speech without violating the law.

Denied Threats

“It is okay to advocate violence as long as no one acted on it,” he said he was told.

Turner denied that he intended to threaten or intimidate the jurists.

“I was criticizing -- strongly criticizing -- what these men had done because I believed they shredded the Constitution with this ruling,” he testified. “It’s an opinion. People don’t act on opinions.”

The case is U.S. v. Turner, 09-CR-00650, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).

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