BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The judge in the trial of ultra-right-wing shock jock and former FBI informant Hal Turner of North Bergen said this morning he may declare a mistrial because jurors told him they are “hopelessly deadlocked.”
Earlier this morning, jurors sent a note to Walter, saying they were unable to reach a verdict and were “hopelessly deadlocked.”
It was the second note from the jury in which it said it could not reach a verdict on the single charge that Turner, 47, unlawfully threatened three federal appeals court judges when he wrote on his blog last June that they “deserved to be killed” for a ruling in a gun control case.
The judge’s disclosure that he was considering a mistrial marked the end of a tense morning in a mostly empty courtroom.
As jurors deliberated behind closed doors, prosecutors asked Walter to dismiss one of them. Prosecutors say the juror, Wei Wang, a hedge fund manager from Queens, had been improperly directing other jurors during deliberations.
One of Turner’s defense lawyers, Nishay Sanan, argued against dismissing Wang. who was seated on the jury even though he told Judge Walter that he often reads First Amendment cases as a hobby and thus may not be able to be impartial.
As lawyers on both sides argued about Wang’s status, the jury sent in the note that it was “hopelessly deadlocked.” On Friday, only two hours into deliberations, the jury sent a note using the same phrase.
When Walter announced that he had received the second note about the deadlocked jury, Turner’s lead defense counsel, Michael Orozco, stood and asked the judge to declare a mistrial.
“I’m going to declare a mistrial,” said Walter.
The judge then asked prosecutors and defense attorneys to “take our your calendars” and began discussion dates for a new trial.
Without issuing a formal decision on a mistrial, the judge then walked back to his chambers. Less than a minute later, he opened the door and walked back into court and said the jury had ordered lunch.
At that point, the judge said he would allow the jury to continue deliberating through lunch.
The case has attracted attention as a battle over First Amendment rights of free speech and the need to protect government officials from extremists.
Last June, Turner was arrested by FBI agents for writing on his blog that three Chicago-based federal appeals court judges “deserved to be killed” for a decision on gun control.
His trial, which began last Tuesday, was expected to last two weeks and possibly include Governor-elect Chris Christie as a witness. As the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey, Christie had opted not to file charges against Turner after Turner made other alleged threats against judges.
Prosecutors cut off their presentation of evidence after only six witnesses – five FBI agents and one U.S. marshall – when Judge Walter blocked them from introducing evidence of Turner’s history of other on-air or Internet threats against other officials.
Beginning in 2003, Turner was an informant for the FBI, passing along information about the extremist groups in his audience. The FBI dismissed him as an informant in 2007, but Turner continued to communicate with the bureau and pass along tips until last June.
His FBI past was the subject of a lengthy investigative report in The Record on Nov. 29.
The juror in question, Wei Wang, had already been seated on the jury last week when he disclosed his interest in the First Amendment. At the time, Judge Walter called Wang to the bench and questioned him with defense and prosecution attorneys standing nearby.