Blogger gets 33 months for threatening Chicago judges on Internet

The blogger, a former Internet radio talk show host, was angry at three federal appeals court judges for upholding a Chicago gun ban. In his blog he wrote the judges 'deserve to be killed.'

Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP/File
Otis McDonald, one of four plaintiffs in the Chicago handgun ban takes part in a news conference in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, March 2. The Supreme Court did not explicitly strike down the Chicago area laws, ordering a federal appeals court to reconsider its ruling. A blogger's death threats against three Chicago judges involved in the handgun ban earned him 33 months in federal prison.

A former Internet radio talk show host and blogger was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison on Tuesday for inviting readers of his blog to assassinate three federal judges.

Hal Turner of North Bergen, N.J., was convicted in a federal court in Brooklyn of threatening to assault and murder three judges of the Chicago-based Seventh US Circuit Court of Appeals as retaliation for upholding a ban on guns in Chicago, a ruling with which he disagreed.

Federal prosecutors presented evidence that after the ruling in the Chicago gun case, Mr. Turner posted statements on his website including, “Let me be the first to say this plainly: These judges deserve to be killed.”

Turner had faced up to six years in prison. His trial was moved from Chicago to Brooklyn, where the case twice ended in mistrials after jurors deadlocked. In addition to his statements, Turner posted photographs, phone numbers, work addresses, and room numbers for the three judges.

“The criminal justice system simply could not function if an individual’s efforts to intimidate a judge through threats of violence were protected from prosecution and punishment,” Patrick Fitzgerald, the US attorney in Chicago, said in a statement.

“We live in a system where judges should be able to do their jobs and not have to look over their shoulders,” he added.

The underlying appeals court case involved the constitutionality of Chicago’s long-time ban on firearms. After the US Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment contained an individual right to keep and bear arms for personal protection in Washington, D.C., gun owners in Chicago filed suit challenging that city’s gun ban.

Rather than strike down the ban as unconstitutional, the appeals court ruled that under existing Supreme Court precedent the high court’s Second Amendment decision in Washington did not reach a local municipality like Chicago because the justices had not yet extended their ruling to state and local governments.

The following term, the Supreme Court did exactly that, and the Chicago gun ban was struck down.

Turner did not appear to be interested in how the judicial system might ultimately resolve such an issue. Instead, he displayed his rage at the appeals court ruling on his website.

“OUTRAGE: Chicago Gun Ban UPHELD,” his blog proclaimed. He emphasized that the federal appeals court in Chicago was the same court that ruled in the case of Matt Hale, a white supremacist convicted of soliciting the murder of a federal judge in Chicago. Turner added that the judge’s mother and husband were later shot and killed in the judge’s home.

Turner stated: “Apparently, the 7th US Circuit court didn’t get the hint after those killings. It appears another lesson is needed.”

The next morning, Turner posted more on his website. “Judges official public work addresses and a map of the area are below. Their home addresses and maps will follow soon. Behold these devils,” he wrote.

He posted a photo of the federal courthouse including arrows pointing out “anti-truck bomb barriers.”

Turner has been in federal custody since his conviction Aug. 13.

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