CHICAGO (CBS) – A federal judge has ruled that a Chicago jury was wrong when it convicted a white supremacist of using his website to solicit violence.
As WBBM Newsradio 780’s Lisa Fielding reports, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman ruled that avowed neo-Nazi William White was within his rights when he published a juror’s personal information on his Web site in 2008.
LISTEN: Newsradio 780′s Lisa Fielding reports
The decision clears the way for White, of Roanoke, Va., to be released from prison in Chicago. The self-styled leader of the American National Socialist Workers Party has been in prison almost continuously since 2008.
White was convicted in January of one count of solicitation for publishing the personal information of Mark Hoffman, the foreman of the jury that convicted another white supremacist, Matthew Hale, of soliciting the murder of U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow.
On Tuesday, Adelman reversed White’s conviction, and denied U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s order to stay the proceedings.
In the decision, Adelman wrote that “the government failed to present sufficient evidence” that the posts online were to solicit harm to the juror. “I further find the posts protected by the First Amendment.”
White’s attorney Nishay Sanan said his client, who was in custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, could be released as early as Tuesday evening.
“He feels vindicated,” Sanan said. “The First Amendment right of free speech, even if it’s not popular, has been protected and upheld.”
Prosecutors said at trial that while White’s posting of Mark Hoffman’s personal information did not specifically call on people to harm him, such was White’s intent. White had told others to shoot or kill everyone on the jury in the Hale trial, prosecutors said.
At trial, Hoffman, who is openly gay, tearfully recounted in testimony how he was inundated with hateful text messages and phone calls from people who had his photo and knew his address, and that he was in a relationship with an African-American. He was given protection after the incident.
Prosecutors’ criminal complaint against White said Hoffman received a cell phone call on Sept. 11, 2008, from a man who asked the juror’s name, whether the juror lived at a specific address, and whether the juror had served on the panel for the Matthew Hale trial. Afterward, the caller said, “that’s all I need to know” and hung up, the complaint said.
Hoffman received about 50 cell phone text messages afterward, some of which were garbled, but others of which had messages in support of white supremacy, the complaint said.
Upon receiving the complaint, authorities entered Hoffman’s name into Google, and found a posting on a website, which purported to include the juror’s name, date of birth, and home address, and claimed the juror “played a key role in convicting Hale,” the complaint said. The entry also included the juror’s purported cell and office phone numbers, the name of a partner and a cat, and a color photograph, the complaint said. All the information had been correct, except that Hoffman had since moved.
The website was later traced to a magazine operated by White.
Hale was convicted in an unrelated case in April 2004. He had threatened to have Judge Lefkow killed for ruling against him in a trademark case involving his white supremacist group, the World Church of the Creator. Hale was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Hale and his group gained nationwide infamy when Benjamin Smith, a former member of his group, went on a shooting rampage on Fourth of July weekend 1999 in Chicago, Skokie, downstate Illinois and Indiana, targeting Jews, Asians and African-Americans. Smith shot and killed former Northwestern University basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong, and Indiana University doctoral student Woo-Joon Yoon. He also shot and wounded six Orthodox Jewish residents of the West Rogers Park neighborhood, and an African-American minister in downstate Decatur.
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