Hal Turner, a right-wing blogger and Internet radio host, has been sentenced to 33 months in federal prison for threatening to assault and murder three judges of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago in response to their 2009 ruling upholding handgun bans in the city.
Turner, 48, was convicted in August of threatening to assault or kill the judges with the intent of impeding their judicial duties.
After the three judges - Frank Easterbrook, Richard Posner and William Bauer - upheld two Chicago-area gun bans, in June 2009 Turner criticized the ruling in his blog, saying, Let me be the first to say this plainly: These judges deserve to be killed. Turner also wrote: If they are allowed to get away with this by surviving, other judges will act the same way and Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty. A small price to pay to assure freedom for millions. He also posted the judges' work addresses and photos in his blog posts.
The online rant led to Turner's arrest and he contended that the postings did not constitute a genuine threat. He said he was protected by the 1st Amendment and testified that the invective constituted a critical opinion and was not a directive to anyone to kill the judges.
However, all three judges testified that they felt threatened by the blog posts. Turner is popular with white supremacists such as Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nation.
On Aug. 13, a federal jury in Brooklyn returned with a verdict that Turner was guilty. It was the third trial for him. Two others had ended in hung juries.
Turner was sentenced on Dec. 21 to 33 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Donald Walter, of the Western District of Louisiana. Walter also ordered Turner to serve six months in home confinement after he is released from custody as a condition of three years of supervised release.
Turner claims the charge against him was a lie from the beginning, and the verdict was invalid because it was based on fraud. He has accused the judge of legal skullduggery for changing the legal definition of a threat and ignoring more than 40 years of Supreme Court case law on freedom of speech and advocating violence.
Turner, a former FBI informant, said the federal agency knew he wasn't an anti-Semitic, homophobic, hate-mongering bigot. The BI, he said, regarded him as a valuable anti-terrorism asset.
I honestly don't believe I broke the law. The truth is I didn't threaten anyone, he said.
His attorney, Ronald G. Russo of Schlam, Stone & Dolan, said an appeal will be filed. This really goes to the heart of what we can say about the people who govern us. The government went after him like a devil, Russo said.