One of the most unusual cases of the year is on trial in Federal Court in Brooklyn where Hal Turner, a New Jersey blogger, is accused of using his blogs to incite assault and murder against three Chicago Federal judges. The case was transferred to Brooklyn from Chicago to avoid any conflicts of interest.
Turner’s defense is two-fold: The First Amendment allows him to say what’s on his mind and he was really just blogging as an undercover agent for the FBI, who wanted him to expose right-wing radicals bent on anarchy.
Here are the facts in a nutshell: Turner is known as an ultra-conservative internet reporter – heavily anti-abortion rights; anti-immigration and of course radially opposed to gun control in any form. So when three Federal appellate judges upheld Chicago’s strict handgun ban, Turner became a Tasmanian devil: Here are some of his blog entries about the judges:
“Let me be the first to say this plainly: These Judges deserve to be killed. Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty”
“These Judges deserve to [be] made such an example of as to send a message to the entire judiciary: Obey the Constitution or die.”
He went on and on in a similar vein and then went even further when he posted the judges’ photographs, phone numbers and the address and a map of the federal courthouse where they sit. He even specifically pointed out three anti-truck bomb barriers on the courthouse map.
His 1st Amendment argument might be hurt by his prior experience in this area. In 2005, Turner had similar rants about Joan Lefkow, another Chicago Federal judge who rendered a pro gun control decision. When Judge Lefkow’s mother and husband were later killed, this guy gloated on his blog that he deserved credit for it happening and posted:
“Let this killing be an example for every other federal official.”
Sweetheart of a man, right? Probably a “family values” guy, too. I’ll bet anything he has a framed picture of Rush Limbaugh in his office. Anyway, his lawyer is trying to raise the banner of the First Amendment by saying “For the first time in over 100 years a member of the media is on trial for expressing his own opinion.” Well, sure, because for the first time in 100 years a member of the media was calling for the murder of three federal judges.
Didn’t this guy ever hear that the First Amendment doesn’t let you scream, “Fire” in a movie theater?
But Turner’s second defense is by far more interesting. Turner claims that he was only blogging like this because the Feds asked him to do so. He claims he was asked to help root out violent radicals by using inciting speech. What’s more interesting is that he claims to have a written document signed by Soon-to-be-NJ-Governor Chris Christie (who was head of the US Attorney’s Office in NJ) promising that Turner would not be prosecuted for any statements he made while acting as an informant. Christie has not commented on the claim ,but has been subpoenaed as a defense witness and will testify at the trial! Now, I know the Federal government brings many cases to trial which is it has no business bringing (see for example Junior Gotti’s fourth mistrial) but could the Feds really have brought this case if the defendant has this document? Then again, would a lawyer make such a claim if he didn’t have the document?
Someone is going to get caught with their pants down, that’s for sure. I suspect it will be the defendant. My hunch is that what Turner is talking about is a standard “proffer agreement,” also known as a “Queen for a Day” agreement. If someone is a target of a federal prosecution and they want to help themselves by giving information to the Feds, when they sit down with the gov’t to tell them what they know, they sign a proffer agreement that says that what you say will not be used against you at trial (with some conditions). If that turns into a full blown cooperation agreement, then you may be given immunity. Maybe Turner was given a cooperation agreement. That would not protect you from prosecution for all future crime of course, just for past crimes and prosecution for the crimes for which you are giving information. I just cannot believe that the US Attorney’s Office would bring this case if Turner had been granted immunity for all his future blog posts.
We’ll know soon enough because Judge Donald Walter, a visiting judge from Shreveport, La who was assigned to the case, is as no-nonsense as it gets. He let everyone know that he did not want to be in Brooklyn for more than a seven day trial and he was going to stick to a very rigid time schedule. So rigid, in fact, that he stopped the US attorney trying the case in the middle of a sentence during his opening statement because he had reached the one hour limit the judge had set. He did not even let the lawyer complete the sentence.
So, crazy radical blogger or government snitch who was just doing his job? Who knows? Or will the Bill of Rights save his butt from many years in a Federal penitentiary? Not likely, but stranger things have certainly happened (see Junior Gotti’s fourth mistrial). I intend to follow the trial and may even stop in tomorrow or Friday to see part of it myself. That’s better reality programming than anything the TV has to offer.