A federal appeals court judge from Illinois testified Wednesday that he felt threatened by a New Jersey blogger's inflammatory Internet tirades over a ruling supporting gun control.
The rant against a three-judge panel in Chicago "was a threat of violence," Judge William Bauer told jurors at a retrial in Brooklyn. "It suggested that the country would be better off if we were killed."
The death threat case against Hal Turner stems from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2009 by Bauer and two other judges, Frank Easterbrook and Richard Posner, that upheld a district court decision dismissing lawsuits that challenged handgun bans in Chicago and Oak Park, Ill.
The same day, Turner blasted the decision with a lengthy post online. In one passage, he quoted Thomas Jefferson as saying, "The tree of liberty must be replenished from time to time with the blood of tyrants and patriots," court papers said.
Authorities say he then went too far by writing: "Let me be the first to say this plainly: These judges must die. Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty."
Bauer testified that one of his clerks alerted him to the posting. He recalled being concerned over some of the supportive comments from readers.
"A great number of people thought it was a great idea," he said. "I didn't."
Posner and Easterbrook also took the witness stand on Wednesday to give similar testimony.
Turner has sought to portray himself as a "shock jock" and fierce gun control opponent whose tirades were protected by the constitutional right to free speech.
"He thought it was political trash talk," defense attorney Peter Kirchheimer said in opening statements. "It was the same thing he'd done many times before, only this time he was arrested."
Testifying in his own defense later Wednesday, Turner said he was a paid FBI informant who was trying to "flush out" dangerous neo-Nazi and white supremacist members of his audience on behalf of the government. He claimed his handler encouraged commentary on the 2005 slaying of the mother and husband of another federal judge in Chicago.
The FBI wanted him "to make fun of the killing, to publicly say things that might induce folks to confide in me because they thought I was an ally," he said.
The case was moved to Brooklyn based on a change-of-venue ruling. Two previous trials ended with hung juries.
If convicted, Turner faces up to 10 years in prison.