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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
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Racist Who Plotted Death of Judge Loses Appeal

CHICAGO (CN) - A white supremacist who solicited the death of a federal judge will stay in prison, the 7th Circuit ruled, tossing a collateral attack of his convictions.

Matthew Hale had been the leader of a white supremacist group known as the Creativity Movement. The group was originally called the World Church of the Creator until it lost a trademark battle over the name in 2002.

When U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow entered the trademark injunction, Hale placed a contract on her life by telling the movement's "head of security" to kill the judge.

Though the Creativity Movement declares itself nonviolent, jurors convicted Hale of soliciting a crime of violence and obstructing justice. The 7th Circuit affirmed his conviction in 2006.

In a collateral attack under 28 U.S.C. §2255, Hale argued that the trial judge violated the U.S. Constitution by excluding him from the portion of the jury selection that dealt with pretrial publicity. Hale also claimed that his attorney, whom he later discharged to proceed pro se, had provided ineffective assistance.

The 7th Circuit was unsympathetic, rejecting both arguments in a 10-page opinion.

Before trial, U.S. District Judge James Moody called members of the venire into a small conference room to question them about their familiarity with Hale, who had received press attention after praising a man who shot at least 11 members of minority groups in 1999.

Hale never formally consented to this format of questioning, though his lawyer told Moody otherwise.

Before the 7th Circuit, Hale argued that he never consented. Arguing that a lawyer cannot consent to questioning the venire outside the presence of the accused on behalf of his client, he deemed the jury selection unconstitutional.

But the appeals court declined to review Hale's claim, ruling that it had been "doubly defaulted." Hale, who is a law school graduate, was aware of the procedures at trial and did not protest. He also failed to raise the issue on direct appeal.

The court also rejected Hale's ineffective assistance of counsel claims.

Hale argued that his Sixth Amendment rights suffered because his trial counsel used peremptory challenges to strike white members of the venire rather than black members, who may have held Hale's racist views against him.

The 7th Circuit noted, however, that Supreme Court precedent from the 1986 case Batson v. Kentucky forbids lawyers from exercising challenges on racial grounds.

"Far from holding that defense lawyers must defy Batson whenever evasion would be in the interest of the defense, we have held that racially motivated challenges constitute ineffective assistance, even when the lawyer sincerely believes that removing jurors of a particular race or sex would help the defendant," Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote for the panel.

Hale's trial lawyer "should be praised, not condemned, for resisting the temptation to use race as the basis of challenges," the ruling states.

"Hale was entitled to trial by a fair cross-section of the whole community, not just that subset of the community that the Creativity Movement favors," Easterbrook wrote. "Hale's hatred of blacks did not entitle him to an all-white jury."

The panel also rejected Hale's second ineffective-assistance argument - that his trial attorney should have conceded that Hale instructed a Movement member to kill someone while arguing that the intended target was not Judge 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. "The approach that current counsel prefers - defending against a contract-murder charge but disputing the identity of the target - was unlikely to appeal to jurors."

Finding that the District Court had sufficiently addressed Hale's other arguments, the appeals court affirmed the rest of the judgment.

One of Hale's followers, William White, has previously appeared before the 7th Circuit on related charges. Five years after Hale was convicted of soliciting Lefkow's murder in 2003, White was indicted for posting online threats aimed at the jury foreperson in Hale's trial.

White posted the name, address, phone number and a photo of the juror, who is a former assistant dean at the Northwestern School of Education and Social Policy, under the title "The Juror Who Convicted Matt Hale."

Finding White's speech protected under the First Amendment, a federal judge later dismissed the indictment, but the 7th Circuit reversed that decision in June 2010.

After a jury convicted White, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman acquitted him, causing the government to again appeal the case to the 7th Circuit.

In October 2012, the federal appeals court reinstated White's conviction, noting that "although First Amendment speech protections are far-reaching, there are limits."

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