CHICAGO (CN) - A white supremacist was within his First Amendment rights when he posted identifying information about a juror on his website, a federal judge ruled, vacating his conviction for soliciting a crime of violence against the man.
William White is the creator and operator of Overthrow.com, a website affiliated with the American National Socialist Workers Party, a white supremacist group.
The site regularly featured posts about fellow white supremacist Matthew Hale, who was convicted in 2003 of soliciting the murder of U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow. Hale was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
In 2005, White wrote that "everyone associated with the Matt Hale trial has deserved assassination for a long time," and posted the names of federal agents, prosecutors and others involved in Hale's arrest.
Three years later, White posted the name, address, phone number and a photo of Mark Hoffman, the jury foreperson in Hale's trial. The government submitted two of the posts about Hoffman into evidence. One has the subheading "Gay Jewish Anti-Racist Led Jury," and another is titled "The Juror Who Convicted Matt Hale."
Hoffman, who is an assistant dean at the Northwestern School of Education and Social Policy, reported receiving crude text messages and one harassing phone call, but no death threats or attempts on his life were made.
The government indicted White, claiming that the man's speech was not protected by the First Amendment because it intended to incite violence against Hoffman. But U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman concluded otherwise and dismissed the indictment.
"I noted that defendant's posts regarding Juror A did not expressly solicit or seek to persuade another person to harm Juror A; rather, they disclosed personal information and commented on his sexual orientation and attitude toward race," Adelman wrote in a new ruling Tuesday. "I further noted that while the posts could reasonably be read as criticizing Juror A's vote to convict Hale, the Supreme Court has long held that scrutiny and criticism of people involved in criminal cases, which may include the disclosure of personal information about them, is protected by the First Amendment."
A three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit reinstated the indictment, however, finding that there was a valid dispute over the intent of the online remarks.
After an anonymous jury convicted White, he moved for acquittal. Adelman granted the motion on Tuesday, and, in a separate ruling, rejects White's motion for a new trial.
"The words defendant used in his three posts about Mark Hoffman did not expressly solicit anyone to harm Hoffman," Adelman wrote. "Indeed, they did not suggest or imply that anyone do anything to Hoffman. ... Having now heard all the evidence, I am convinced that no reasonable factfinder considering the posts and the context in which they were made could conclude, based on an objective standard, that they constitute a solicitation."
White will be released from Chicago's Metropolitan Correctional Center, having already completed a 2.5-year prison sentence.
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