Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Day 1 Of The Bill White Federal Trial In Roanoke, Virginia Focuses On Jury Selection; Some Jurors Already Excused For Bias Against "Neo-Nazis"
Day 1 of the Federal trial of ANSWP Commander Bill White in Roanoke, Virginia focused on jury selection. The fundamental question to be resolved during the trial: Did Bill White's online posts amount to "true threats," as defined by federal law, or did his words stop short of "inciting or producing imminent lawless action," and thus fall under the protection of the First Amendment? The Roanoke Times is providing dedicated coverage of the proceedings HERE.
Roanoke Times blogger Dan Casey earlier weighed in on the challenges of selecting a jury in this case. The first wave of 66 prospective jurors was called and quizzed beginning at 9:30 A.M. EST. Twenty have now been excused either because they said they could not give White a fair trial due to his racist views or because they had plans or medical conditions that prevented them from serving over the next two or three weeks. In particular, nine of those excused said they disapproved so strongly of White's neo-Nazi views that they could not render a fair verdict. On the other hand, many more of the jurors said that although they had heard or read about the case, they could keep an open mind.
Jurors are being quizzed in depth as to their views on white supremacy, Adolf Hitler and swastikas. One man said he had a swastika tattooed on his left leg (he was ultimately excluded). Some jurors, particuloarly the Black jurors, visibly recoiled at the word "nigger" which White uses regularly in his online comments. The problem is that the word "nigger" will come out frequently as the prosecution makes its case. WSLS Channel 10 now reports that jury selection is complete; an all-white jury of 10 men and 4 women have been chosen. Twelve are primaries and two are alternates. However, the fact that the jury is described as "all-white" does not preclude the possibility of the presence of Jews; Jews are considered white by mainstream society.
After the jury was selected, Roanoke NAACP dominatrix Brenda Hale complained, "I just cannot fathom how they ended up with an all-white jury. How can you have equal justice in the courtroom when you don't have a representation of the overall community?" But unlike cases tried in Roanoke's state court, the panelists for this Federal case came from a wide swath of Southwest Virginia that is predominantly white, rather than just from the city.
Various news stories are referring to the seven charges levied against Bill White. As put forth in this previous post, the Federal charges faced by White in Roanoke include using his website to make threats against a half-dozen or so targets, including the so-called "civil rights attorney" Richard Warman in Canada, the nationally syndicated black newspaper columnist Leonard "Cry Me A River" Pitts, and an insignificant small-town black mayor in New Jersey. Specifically, he is charged with five counts of communicating threats in interstate commerce, one count of communicating an extortionate threat in interstate commerce, and one count of witness intimidation. He is accused of "targeting" individuals with whom he disagreed from 2006 to 2008 for racial reasons. The 19-page indictment can be read HERE.
If found guilty of communicating threats in interstate commerce, White could face a maximum punishment of five years in prison for each count of the indictment. If found guilty of communicating extortionate threats in interstate commerce, White could face a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison. If found guilty of witness intimidation, White faces a maximum punishment of ten years in prison. Each of the aforementioned charges also entails a potential fine of up to $250,000.
Bill White faced similar charges in Chicago, but the judge dismissed the case on July 21st, 2009 before it could go to trial. In the Roanoke trial, the judge has not ruled out dismissing the case at some point, but he feels the government deserves an opportunity to make its case. To quote Judge James Turk, "I think the indictment is sufficient to go to trial. It may not be sufficient to go to a jury." The outcome may well depend upon whether Bill White is willing to concentrate on defending his actions and linking them inextricably to the First Amendment rather than making some of the vainglorious political statements he's made in the past. It would be smart if Bill White chooses not to testify himself during the trial.