Saturday, February 27, 2010
Federal Judge Dave Whalin Rules Case Against Johnny Logan Spencer For Allegedly Threatening Obama With A "Poem" Can Proceed
On Thursday February 25th, 2010, U.S. Magistrate Judge Dave Whalin ruled that there is probable cause for the case against Johnny Logan Spencer to proceed to a grand jury. Spencer was arrested and charged with making threats against the president and threatening the life of a presidential candidate, stemming from a poem he first published on the National Socialist Movement's New Saxon community website in April 2007. New developments reported by the Louisville Courier-Journal, WLKY Channel 32, and WFIE Channel 14. Read my previous post for the initial story and to read the poem in question.
The judge's finding of probable cause reads: "The poem is solely and entirely dedicated to the assassination of the current president of the United States based only on his race. It contains no other message or verbal imagery. It expresses no larger theme or commentary on social or political issues of the day." Judge Whalin also noted that Spencer had apologized to the Secret Service for writing the poem and said he never intended to assassinate the president, but maintains that it doesn't matter because the question is whether reasonable people to whom the message is addressed would construe it as an intention to harm the president. He added that the courts also have said it doesn’t matter that the person making the threat isn’t in a position to carry it out. The judge's 16-page ruling is only available via Pacer, which is free, but requires one establish an account.
But one civil liberties expert, University of Louisville law professor Russell Weaver, said the poem is protected free speech, and disputes the prosecution's notion that it constituted a "true threat" to the President. "The idea of a true threat means that it's an imminent threat, or if it's not imminent, at least it's that somebody is really intending to threaten the president, that they're saying I'm going to kill you," said Weaver. Weaver also opined that if Spencer is convicted, the case could be successfully appealed to the Supreme Court and a guilty verdict overturned. Weaver's opinion is further validated by the fact that the poem does not mention Barack Obama or Michelle Obama by name. Another question to be raised is why the Secret Service waited 2 1/2 years to act on this when they already knew the poem existed. They did not arrest Spencer until prompted by an informer.
Spencer's attorney also noted that Spencer had no intention of actually killing the president, also arguing that although the poem might be offensive art, but it's art nonetheless and thus protected under the First Amendment.
But Paul Johnson, special agent in charge of the Secret Service’s Louisville field office, said the agency was pleased with the decision. “We take very seriously our responsibility to aggressively investigate threats against the president and this is clearly on of those cases,” he said.
Shortly after his arrest, Spencer was released from jail, but Judge Whalin ordered him back into custody Thursday after Spencer's family was unable to provide a suitable place to live. He is scheduled to be arraigned on March 17th. If convicted, both charges carry maximum 5-year sentences and a $250,000 fine.