CHICAGO A federal judge ruled yesterday that a Chicago jury was wrong when it convicted a white supremacist of using his website to solicit violence against a juror in another case, saying the posts were protected by the First Amendment.
The decision cleared the way for William White of Roanoke, Va., to be released from a Chicago prison. The self-styled leader of the American National Socialist Workers Party has been in prison almost continuously since 2008.
In January the avowed neo-Nazi was convicted of one count of solicitation for publishing a juror’s name, photograph, home address, phone numbers and sexual orientation in 2008 on his website overthrow.com. The now-defunct site regularly attacked nonwhites, Jews and homosexuals and expressed approval for acts of violence. The juror had been foreman of a jury that convicted another white supremacist, Matthew Hale, of soliciting the murder of a federal judge.
But U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman reversed the conviction against White yesterday and denied a request by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to stay the proceedings.
In the decision, Adelman wrote that “the government failed to present sufficient evidence” that the posts online were to solicit harm to the juror. “I further find the posts protected by the First Amendment.”
White’s attorney Nishay Sanan said his client “feels vindicated.”
“The First Amendment right of free speech, even if it’s not popular, has been protected and upheld,” Sanan said.
Sanan and federal prison officials didn’t know exactly when White would be released. Phone calls to Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional Center yesterday evening went unanswered.
Adelman initially dismissed the indictment against White in 2009. But an appeals court reinstated the charge. Appellate judges said the website post didn’t necessarily deserve First Amendment protection, but indicated it was crucial to determine whether White intended for one of his readers to harm the juror.
White has already completed a 2 ½-year prison sentence on a previous conviction for using his website, email and telephone to harass strangers.
His website drew national attention in 2008 when it featured an article about a possible assassination of then-Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.