A New Jersey blogger crossed the line protecting free speech by writing that three federal judges in Chicago "must die" for a decision supporting gun control, a prosecutor said Friday, as the defense countered in closing arguments that giving a passionate opinion is not a crime.
"There is no right to threaten violence against people," said Assistant U.S. Attorney William Ridgway. The judges, he added, "received that threat just by virtue of doing their jobs."
Hal Turner, 47, of North Bergen, N.J., was charged earlier this year with threatening to assault or kill a federal judge. Defense attorney Nishay Sanan sought to portray him as a "shock jock" and fierce gun control opponent whose tirades were protected by the First Amendment.
"Giving your opinion is not a crime," he said in his closing argument. "To do it passionately is not a crime."
The lawyer also cited evidence that his client once was a paid FBI informant in investigations of neo-Nazis and white supremacist groups.
"What does he get from his country? Betrayal," he said.
The arguments came after only one day of testimony in federal court in Brooklyn, where the trial was moved based on 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.
The jury began deliberating Friday afternoon.
Handgun lawsuits spurred comments
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."
Posted judges photos
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 referenced 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."
In a separate case, Turner was charged with "inciting injury to persons" for urging blog readers to "take up arms" against Connecticut lawmakers who proposed legislation to give Roman Catholic lay members more control over parish finances.
If convicted of threatening the Illinois judges, Turner would face up to 10 years in prison.