For eight years, white supremacist Matthew Hale has been fighting his conviction for soliciting the murder of a federal judge.
This week, a federal appeals court decisively rejected every argument he raised.
Hale, a law school graduate from East Peoria, Ill., was sentenced to 40 years in prison in 2005 for putting out a contract on the life of Judge Joan Lefkow of the Northern District of Illinois. Lefkow had ruled against Hale in a trademark dispute.
In 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed Hale’s conviction. And on Tuesday, they took up his case again, rejecting an entire raft of arguments—including that minorities should have been barred from his jury and that he had improperly been excluded from jury selection.
"The judgment is affirmed," Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote in Hale v. U.S., joined by judges Richard Posner and John Daniel Tinder.
Hale’s bizarre odyssey began with a dispute over control of the name of a racist group he headed called the World Church of the Creator. Lefkow entered an injunction against the group’s use of its original name, which had been claimed earlier by an unrelated religious group. His organization was forced to change its name to the Creativity Movement.
Hale subsequently solicited Tony Evola, described in the opinion as the movement’s "head of security," to kill Judge Lefkow. Evola, however, was working with the FBI, and secretly tape-recorded a discussion about the plot. Hale is serving his time in a maximum-security federal prison in Florence, Colo.
A separate jury later convicted a sympathizer, William White, of threatening the life of the foreman of the jury that ultimately found Hale guilty, but a trial judge threw out the verdict. In October, the Seventh Circuit reinstated the conviction, and in February Judge Lynn Adelman of the Northern District of Illinois sentenced White to 42 months in prison.
(In an unrelated violent episode in 2005, Lefkow’s husband and mother were murdered by a disgruntled party to a medical malpractice case.)
In July 2010, Judge James Moody of the Northern District of Illinois denied Hale’s motion to vacate his own conviction. Hale appealed the decision.
Regarding his jury-selection claim, the Seventh Circuit rejected Hale’s argument that the trial judge needed his express consent to exclude him while Lefkow questioned prospective jurors in chambers about whether they had been exposed to pretrial publicity.
Hale "never directly states that he told his attorney to insist to the court that he wanted to be present [during jury selection], and that his attorney refused to do so, and that failure means that Hale has no claim," Easterbrook wrote. Hale, a law school graduate, did not protest at the time, and failed to raise the issue on direct appeal.
The trial judge and Hale’s lawyer believed that asking the potential jurors whether they could disregard anything they may have heard or read about Hale would be "more fruitful" outside of Hale’s presence, the court said.
Hale’s lawyer informed the judge that he said to Hale, "I thought it okay if he was not here."
Easterbrook wrote: "Had Hale raised the subject, the judge could have either obtained Hale’s consent on the record or permitted him to observe all questioning. Either way, the issue that Hale now identifies could have been fixed before it became a problem. That’s why courts require contemporaneous action."
The court also addressed two of Hale’s numerous claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.
Easterbrook first rejected the argument that Hale’s former lawyer should have struck black members of the jury from the pool rather than white ones. He wrote that U.S. Supreme Court rulings bar lawyers from challenges to individual potential jurors on racial grounds. He also noted that the Creativity Movement holds negative beliefs about so many racial groups and professions "that it would be impossible for defense counsel to strike even a small fraction of those in the jury pool whom Hale and his followers had denounced."
Easterbrook then analyzed Hale’s argument that his former lawyer "should have conceded" that Hale told Tony Evola, the movement’s "head of security," to kill someone, but not Lefkow.
"Trial counsel did not have much room for maneuver, and trying to show that Hale’s ambiguous statements had been misunderstood was the best of the available choices," Easterbrook wrote.
Hale’s attorney, Clifford Barnard, a solo practitioner in Boulder, Colo., said he plans to ask the Seventh Circuit for a panel rehearing or a hearing en banc or both.
Spokesman and Assistant U.S. Attorney Randall Samborn said that the U.S. Attorney’ Office for the Northern District of Illinois declined to comment. Assistant U.S. Attorney David Bindi argued for the government.
Sheri Qualters can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.