NEW YORK (AP) — When three federal judges in Illinois upheld local handgun bans this year, blogger Hal Turner went on the offensive.
Turner, a fierce gun control opponent, called the appellate judges “cunning, ruthless, deceitful scum.” Then he declared that they “must die” — words that helped land him in federal court, charged with threatening to assault or kill a judge.
Closing arguments at his trial were scheduled for Friday in Brooklyn, where it was moved after a change-of-venue request.
Prosecutors called three federal agents to describe Turner’s fiery Web site entries. His attorneys opted not to call any witnesses, despite subpoenaing Chris Christie, the former U.S. attorney for New Jersey and the state’s governor-elect, to testify for the defense.
In opening statements, defense attorney Michael Orozco sought to portray Turner, of North Bergen, N.J., as a harmless “shock jock” whose tirades were protected by the First Amendment.
“For the first time in over 100 years, a member of the media is on trial for expressing his own opinion,” Orozco said.
The lawyer also claimed the federal government was betraying his client after years of paying him for inside information on neo-Nazis and white supremacist groups — a deal he says Christie knew about. Both Christie and federal authorities have declined comment on whether Turner was an FBI informant.
Prosecutors have sought to convince the jury that Turner, 47, knew that his rants could result in violence against the judiciary.
“Hal Turner is wrong about what he’s allowed to publish,” Assistant U.S. Attorney William Hogan said in his opening statement. “He is wrong about where to draw the line for the First Amendment. He cannot call for (the judges’) execution and murder.”
Turner’s troubles began in June after the three judges with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — Richard Posner, Frank Easterbrook and William Bauer — upheld a district court ruling dismissing lawsuits challenging handgun bans in Chicago and Oak Park.
The same day, Turner blasted the decision with a lengthy Internet posting. In one passage, he quoted Thomas Jefferson as saying, “The tree of liberty must be replenished from time to time with the blood of tyrants and patriots,” court papers said.
Authorities say he then went too far by writing, “Let me be the first to say this plainly: These judges must die. Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty.”
Turner later posted the judges’ photographs, telephone numbers and work addresses, along with maps of a federal building that pointed out truck bomb barriers, they say. He also cited the 2005 slaying of the mother and husband of another federal judge in Chicago, they say.
“Apparently, the 7th U.S. Circuit didn’t get the hint after those killings,” authorities say he wrote. “It appears another lesson is needed.”
If convicted, Turner would face up to 10 years in prison.
The judges were unharmed.