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Internet radio host sentenced to prison for threatening judges

By Megan Miller, CNN
  • A radio host was sentenced to 33 months in prison after making death threats to judges
  • Hal Turner wrote "these Judges deserve to be killed" after they upheld a local gun law
  • Turner also posted phone numbers, work address and room numbers of the judges
  • His attorney says the case raises First Amendment questions and plans to appeal

New York (CNN) -- A New Jersey radio host and blogger was sentenced Tuesday to 33 months in prison after making death threats against three federal judges in Illinois, according to a statement from U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

Hal Turner, 48, posted the remarks on his internet blog in retaliation for a 2009 appeals court ruling that upheld a local handgun ban in Chicago and a nearby suburb, the statement said.

"These Judges deserve to be killed," Turner wrote following the ruling.

His postings included photographs, phone numbers, work address and room numbers of the judges, along with a photo of the building in which they work and a map of its location, statement said.

Turner also noted online that it was the same 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that decided the case of Matt Hale, a white supremacist who was imprisoned after soliciting the murder of a U.S. District Court judge in Chicago.

He wrote that the judge's mother and husband were murdered by a gunman in her home and if the court "didn't get the hint after those killings. It appears another lesson is needed," according to the statement.

Turner claimed his internet posts are protected under the Constitution's First Amendment right to free speech.

"I don't believe that this is a threat in the context of opinions on the radio, the television, or the internet," said Turner's attorney Ronald G. Russo. "I think it's pretty obnoxious for him to say that, but I don't believe he came close to committing a crime."

Russo said the case raises "serious First Amendment questions" and reflects a "slippery slope" regarding prosecution of hosts "who get on the radio and rant" or post inflammatory remarks on the internet.

But prosecutors say the nature and the extent of Turner's posts are outside those protections.

"The criminal justice system simply could not function if an individual's efforts to intimidate a judge through threats of violence were protected from prosecution and punishment," said Fitzgerald. "We live in a system where judges should be able to do their jobs and not have to look over their shoulders."

Turner was arrested in June 2009 after police were notified of the internet posts.

The first two trials ended in mistrials after the juries were deadlocked, the statement said.

Turner's attorney said that he plans to appeal.