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HARTFORD, CONN. (AP) - A blogger was acquitted Friday of charges that he threatened state officials when he urged readers to “take up arms” and suggested that government leaders “obey the Constitution or die.”
Harold “Hal” Turner, of North Bergen, N.J., was found not guilty of felony inciting injury to people and misdemeanor threatening by a Hartford jury that deliberated less than three hours. He could have faced a decade in prison if convicted of the felony charge.
Turner, who will be returned to a federal prison in Indiana to complete a nearly three-year sentence for threatening judges in Illinois, hugged family members after the verdict was announced.
“I am very pleased,” he said, as he was led away by correction officers.
Turner, who represented himself, argued that no one was hurt and there was no evidence that his words led to any violence. He also cited his First Amendment right to free speech.
Turner wrote a blog posting in June 2009 in response to state legislation, withdrawn three months earlier, that would have given lay people of Roman Catholic churches more control over parish finances. Turner, 49, believed the legislation flew in the face of the constitutional doctrine of separation of church and state.
He suggested that Catholics “take up arms and put down this tyranny by force,” said government leaders should “obey the Constitution or die” and said he would post officials’ home addresses. He also wrote that if authorities tried to stop his cause, “I suspect we have enough bullets to put them down too.”
Three of the six jurors said in interviews after the verdict that they didn’t like what Turner did. They said his words were “outrageous” and wrong but they had to focus on the specifics of state law and didn’t believe the prosecution proved all the elements of the charges.
“We all felt he was guilty of certain aspects,” juror Ann Parise said. “Although we found him not guilty, we don’t feel he was innocent.”
Prosecutor Thomas Garcia said he was disappointed with the verdict and declined further comment.
Two state officials testified that they had received unrelated threats before because of their jobs, but they said Turner’s comments went above and beyond those previous remarks.
The trial began Thursday morning, and both sides rested their cases Thursday afternoon. Turner didn’t testify or present any witnesses, saying the state hadn’t proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Turner’s mother, Kathy Diamond, said she was grateful and happy for the acquittal.
“I think the state of Connecticut ought to be ashamed of themselves, and this was nothing but a political witch hunt,” she said.
During his closing argument Friday, Turner said, “Ladies and gentlemen, this case is a fraud.”
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