Who has the best lights in town? Vote now for your favorite in our holiday lights contest.
Prosecutors say the trial of William A. White calls for an anonymous jury.
William A. White
Saturday, October 19, 2013
Prosecutors want a Roanoke judge to conceal jurors’ names and addresses at the upcoming criminal trial of former neo-Nazi activist William A. White, saying he and his associates might target them otherwise.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia filed the request for a rare anonymous jury Wednesday. Prosecutors said White — convicted in 2011 of soliciting violence against a juror in Illinois — and people with whom White associates have “no respect for the judicial process.”
Judge James Turk has yet to rule on the question before White is tried on a four-count indictment that says he sent threatening communications to extort or try to extort money from his ex-wife. White opposes the request, defense attorney Paul Beers said.
Anonymous juries are rare in the federal system. Only one anonymous jury has been used in this federal judicial district in at least 30 years, said Julia Dudley, court clerk. The percentage of federal trials conducted nationally with anonymous juries is small but the exact number is unknown, said Charlie Hall, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in Washington, D.C.
At the start of a typical case in the Western District of Virginia, both the prosecution and defense receive a nonpublic list of prospective jurors giving each one’s name, address, occupation and race, Dudley said. Jurors’ names are stated in open court during jury selection, Dudley said.
White’s trial set for Oct. 30 in Roanoke should be different, Laura Day Rottenborn, an assistant U.S. attorney, said in court papers.
“The government … proposes that jurors be assigned a number and be referred to only by that number,” the filing said.
In addition, a ZIP code or municipality should suffice in lieu of a juror giving his or her home or work address, prosecutors said. No other restrictions were proposed.
Rottenborn reminded Turk that an Illinois jury convicted the 36-year-old White in 2011 of soliciting violence against the foreman of a jury that convicted a fellow neo-Nazi of soliciting an undercover officer to kill a judge.
White, who is serving a prison term for his conviction, “and his associates are capable of harming jurors and are likely to interfere with the judicial process as they have in the past,” prosecutors said.
The appellate courts have told trial judges what factors to consider when presented with a request for an anonymous jury. They should weigh whether the person on trial is involved in organized crime where the group has the ability to harm jurors, has tried to interfere before in judicial proceedings and faces a severe fine or prison term if convicted, prosecutors said. If a case meets those tests and will likely get media publicity, that’s grounds for an anonymous jury, prosecutors said.
In this case, White identifies himself a white supremacist, and white supremacists, like members of a gang or mafia, “may be motivated to take violent, criminal action” in support of their beliefs, prosecutors said. He has a history of interfering with court procedures and most recently disclosed confidential grand jury material, prosecutors said.
In addition, an Illinois judge chose an anonymous jury for White’s trial in 2011 on a charge he solicited a crime of violence against a juror, prosecutors said. If an anonymous jury was warranted then it is warranted for White’s upcoming trial now that he stands convicted of the offense, prosecutors said.
White also faces a possibly long sentence — more than 16 years — and the news media are likely to cover the case, prosecutors told the court.
According to the pending charges, White sent threatening emails in May and June 2012 to his ex-wife in what prosecutors called an attempt to extort money to live as a fugitive in Mexico, where he went briefly into hiding before being arrested. Prosecutors plan to present evidence that he told the woman to have $500 ready to give an intermediary or “you will probably be hospitalized.” The February 2013 indictment quotes from a series of emails with similar language. White, who is currently serving a sentence of three and a half years on the solicitation conviction, has pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors suggested telling the anonymous jury, if one is chosen, that the numbering system protects them from the media, the curious and those who might give them unauthorized information and will spare them “unwanted publicity.”
The only anonymous jury in this region that court staff can recall decided a lawsuit in 2012 in Abingdon in which a state prison inmate accused a guard of using excessive force. The jury awarded the inmate $1,000.
Weather JournalMix on Sat AM; coming blog changes