When a New Jersey blogger urged readers to "take up arms" against Connecticut lawmakers and suggested that government leaders "obey the Constitution or die," his words went above and beyond the usual threats public officials receive, two Connecticut officials testified Thursday.
The testimony came in the trial of Harold "Hal" Turner, 49, of North Bergen, N.J. Turner is charged with felony inciting injury to people and misdemeanor threatening and is already serving a three-year sentence for making death threats against federal judges in Illinois. If convicted of the state felony charge, he could get up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The state trial began Thursday morning and by the end of the day both the prosecution and defense had rested their cases. Turner represented himself and didn't testify or call any witnesses. But he noted in his questioning of prosecution witnesses that no one was hurt by his blog two years ago and that the prosecution did not produce any evidence that anyone planned violence because of his blog.
Andrew McDonald, general counsel to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, and Thomas Jones, a state ethics enforcement officer, testified that they were concerned for their safety. McDonald was a legislator at the time.
"I wish you would never have entered my life," McDonald told Turner. "I felt threatened by you, and I felt you were a volatile individual."
McDonald said he had received threats before. But "this was an extraordinary document that far exceeded any other threat I had ever received. I thought that this was a very real threat."
Both McDonald and Jones testified they were worried about Turner writing in the blog that he would post their home addresses.
"I interpreted this as people were going to be coming to my house within 24 hours with bullets and guns," said Jones, who also said Turner's blog was more serious than other unrelated threats he had received. "This was real. This was tangible. This was electric."
Turner insists his comments were protected by the First Amendment right of free speech and has called his remarks the kind of "political hyperbole" often heard on news talk shows.
He wrote the blog posting June 2, 2009, in response to state legislation withdrawn three months earlier that would have given lay members of Connecticut's Roman Catholic churches more control over parish finances. Turner believed the bill flew in the face of separation of church and state.
Turner's blog urged Catholics in the state to "take up arms and put down this tyranny by force."
"It is our intent to foment direct actions against these individuals personally," Turner wrote. "These beastly government officials should be made an example of as a warning to others in government: Obey the Constitution or die."
He also wrote that if authorities tried to stop his cause, "I suspect we have enough bullets to put them down too."
Police said Turner's targets were Jones; McDonald, then a state senator; and Michael Lawlor, then a state representative who now is the governor's undersecretary for criminal justice planning. McDonald and Lawlor were co-chairmen of the legislature's Judiciary Committee, which handled the legislation.
Prosecutors say Jones was targeted because he had written Catholic Church officials, saying some of their activities at the state Capitol could possibly be considered lobbying and they weren't registered as lobbyists.
Judge Carl Schuman rejected Turner's request for acquittal, saying that the case wasn't about free speech. The judge said the issue was whether Turner broke state law.
Closing arguments before the jury in Hartford Superior Court were set for Friday.
The federal case for which Turner is serving a prison sentence stemmed from Turner's online criticism online after a 2009 ruling made by a federal appeals court that dismissed lawsuits challenging handgun bans in Chicago and Oak Park, Ill. Turner said: "These judges must die." He was sentenced in December after two previous trials ended in hung juries.
Also, in 2005, federal authorities questioned Turner after U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow found her mother and husband shot to death in her home in Chicago. Lefkow was targeted by a white supremacist who objected to her ruling in a trademark dispute. Turner said he became a focus because he had said on air two years earlier that Lefkow "was worthy of being killed."