Sept. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Hal Turner, the Internet “shock jock” radio host in prison for threatening federal judges, was acquitted by a jury of inciting his blog readers to injure three Connecticut government officials.
A state jury in Hartford, after a trial that started Sept. 15, found Turner not guilty yesterday of writing threatening comments on the Turner Radio Network website because he was upset at what he saw as anti-Catholic legislation. The three government officials were never attacked.
“I never said go attack these men,” Turner, 49, who represented himself at the trial, told the jury in his closing argument yesterday. “I said put down this tyranny by force. It’s an abstract concept. You can’t go to a supermarket and buy a can of tyranny. I did not say go kill those men.”
Turner, of North Bergen, New Jersey, was convicted last year in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, of threatening three Chicago-based U.S. appeals judges because of their ruling upholding a gun ban. Turner, who has appealed his federal conviction, is serving a 33-month prison sentence.
His federal conviction came after two previous juries couldn’t reach a verdict.
“I’m disappointed with the verdict,” Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Thomas R. Garcia, who prosecuted Turner in Connecticut, said in a phone interview. Turner was acquitted of a felony count of inciting injury and a misdemeanor count of threatening.
“He’s not charged with violating the First Amendment, as much as he wants to wrap himself in it,” Garcia told the jury in his closing argument yesterday. “Politicians deserve protection under the law.”
Turner has advocated violence against blacks, Jews and immigrants on his website and Internet radio show, according to the Anti-Defamation League, created in 1913 to monitor anti- Semitism.
In April 2009, the U.S. Treasury Department was forced to deny Turner’s blog post that said most of the U.S.’s largest banks were insolvent and that sent down financial-sector stocks when it was cited by Theflyonthewall.com.
In his June 2, 2009, blog post, Turner exhorted readers to injure state Senator Andrew J. McDonald, state Representative Michael Lawlor and Thomas K. Jones, Connecticut’s ethics enforcement officer, prosecutors said. He promised to announce their home addresses on his next radio show, which he never did, according to court papers. He was arrested June 11, 2009.
‘Take Up Arms’
“TRN advocates Catholics in Connecticut take up arms and put down this tyranny by force,” Turner wrote on his website, according to court papers. “It is our intent to foment direct action against these individuals personally.”
Turner was protesting a bill that would have replaced priests and bishops with boards of lay people to oversee the finances of Roman Catholic parishes, according to court papers.
“If any state’s attorney, police department or court thinks they’re going to get uppity with us about this: I suspect we have enough bullets to put them down too,” Turner wrote, according to the government.
McDonald and Lawlor, Democrats who sponsored the legislation, now work in Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s administration. Jones had opened an investigation into the Bridgeport Diocese because it hadn’t registered as a lobbyist to oppose the bill, according to the government.
‘Big Bad Government’
“This was not an abstract reference,” Garcia told the jury. “He named them personally. This is not a battle between big bad government and little Hal Turner.”
McDonald and Jones testified at the trial. Turner presented no witnesses.
On Sept. 6, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Carl Schuman ruled against Turner’s request to toss the case both on free- speech grounds and because Connecticut had no jurisdiction over him as a New Jersey resident.
“In the United States of America, we are supposed to be able to express our opinions,” Turner told the jury. “The state is prosecuting me simply for uttering words.”
Last week, while the jury was being picked, Turner fired his lawyer, John L. Stawicki, a public defender. He represented himself with Stawicki advising him.
Turner was convicted of threatening federal judges Frank Easterbrook, Richard Posner and William Bauer because of their ruling, also in June 2009, upholding handgun bans in Chicago and Oak Park, Illinois. A lower court previously dismissed the National Rifle Association’s challenge to the ordinances. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the handgun bans last year.
The case is State of Connecticut v. Turner, CR09-63265-T, Superior Court of Connecticut (Hartford). The federal case is U.S. v. Turner, 09-cr-00650, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn). Turner’s appeal is U.S. v. Turner, 11-196, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Manhattan).
--Editors: Mary Romano, Andrew Dunn
To contact the reporters on this story: Thom Weidlich in Brooklyn, New York, federal court at firstname.lastname@example.org; Alix Boyle in state court in Hartford, Connecticut, at email@example.com.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at firstname.lastname@example.org.