Opening arguments took place Wednesday in the Brooklyn federal court trial of Hal Turner, the New Jersey blogger and Internet-radio talk-show host accused of threatening on his blog to assault and kill three federal judges for their votes to uphold handgun bans in and around Chicago.
"Hal Turner is wrong about what he's allowed to publish, he is wrong about where to draw the line for the First Amendment," Chicago federal prosecutor William R. Hogan Jr. told the jury. "He cannot call for [the judges'] execution and murder."
In his one-hour opening, which was cut off mid-sentence by the presiding judge, visiting District Court Judge Donald Walter of Louisiana, Hogan described Turner as a sophisticated defendant who knew very well that his postings could lead to attacks on judges, and who in fact had taken credit for encouraging the 2005 murders of the mother and husband of Chicago federal Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow.
Hogan, an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, quoted a blog entry posted by Turner just after that attack, which boasted, "Let this killing be an example for every other federal official."
Turner's lead attorney, Michael A. Orozco, described his client's postings as the constitutionally protected editorials of a concerned Internet reporter.
"For the first time in over 100 years, " Orozco said, "a member of the media is on trial for expressing his own opinion."
Orozco, a solo practitioner in Newark, N.J., also argued that the prosecution represents a "betrayal" by the federal government, which for four years employed Turner as a confidential informant on racist radicals and encouraged him to be provocative.
Turner was "nothing but a shock jock, a radio personality whose hand was guided by the federal government," Orozco said in his 15-minute opening.
At the heart of the government's case are a series of blog entries posted by Turner in June, in which he called for the murders of Judges Richard Posner, Frank Easterbrook and William Bauer of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for voting to uphold handgun bans in Chicago and Oak Park.
"Let me be the first to say this plainly: These Judges deserve to be killed. Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty," Turner wrote in one of several postings quoted Wednesday by Hogan. "These Judges deserve to [be] made such an example of as to send a message to the entire judiciary: Obey the Constitution or die."
Turner, a vocal and vitriolic opponent of gun control, immigration and abortion rights, also posted the judges' photographs, phone numbers and work address, as well as a map of the federal courthouse that specifically pointed out three anti-truck bomb barriers.
The case against Turner was originally filed in Chicago federal court -- in the courthouse where the three threatened judges sit -- and assigned to Judge Walter, a visiting judge from Shreveport, La.
Walter granted a defense motion to transfer the case to Brooklyn, and then came along to hear it. United States v. Turner, 09 CR 542, is the only case the judge will hear while in Brooklyn.
Appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1985, Walter took senior status in 2001. He is perhaps best known for participating in a 12-judge advisory panel that went to Iraq in 2003 to assess its judiciary.
In Brooklyn, Walter has shown little patience for those who threaten his estimated five-to-seven-day trial schedule. In addition to his strictly enforced time limit for opening arguments, he ordered one potential juror to sit in the audience throughout the trial for failing to tell the judge that he did not think he could be impartial until after he had been seated and causing a one-day delay.
On Wednesday, that ex-juror sat in the second row and seemed to be confused about what had transpired, telling reporters he believed he was not being punished but was in fact still a member of the jury. Walter released him after lunch.
The trial provides the possibility of several newsworthy twists.
To support Turner's claim that his blog entries were made as part of an undercover FBI operation to root out violent radicals, Turner will attempt to call on several high-ranking federal officials to substantiate his claim.
According to the Bergen County Record, Turner has already subpoenaed New Jersey Governor-elect Christopher Christie, who served as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey when Turner served as an informant. Turner claims Christie issued a letter stating that Turner would not be prosecuted for any statements he made as an informant.
A spokesman for Christie has confirmed the subpoena. In an interview with the Associated Press on Monday, Christie declined to discuss "any advice I gave as U.S. Attorney regarding prosecutions."
There is also the possibility the government will call as witnesses the three threatened judges, though the witness lists remain under seal.
The government began its case Wednesday afternoon. Turner faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.