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Court upholds radio host's conviction for threats to judges

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A right-wing internet radio host has lost a bid to reverse his conviction for threatening the lives of three federal appeals court judges who ruled to uphold a Chicago gun law.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York on Friday upheld the 2010 conviction of Harold Turner, 51, who was sentenced to 33 months in prison based on comments he wrote on his blog.

"The full context of Turner's remarks reveals a gravity readily distinguishable from mere hyperbole or common public discourse," U.S. Circuit Judge Debra Livingston wrote.

Turner, who hosted an online talk radio show that was popular with white supremacist groups, in 2009 published a blog post criticizing a ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld Chicago's handgun ban.

Turner wrote that if U.S. Circuit Judges Frank Easterbrook, Richard Posner and William Bauer were "allowed to get away with this by surviving, other Judges will act the same way" and that their blood would "replenish the tree of liberty."

A day later, Turner posted photographs, work addresses and room numbers for each judge. He also posted a map to the court and a photo that marked "Anti-truck bomb barriers."

Turner was indicted in July 2009 for threatening to assault and murder the judges. A federal jury in New York convicted him in August 2010.

On appeal, Turner argued he had engaged in political speech protected by the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

The 2nd Circuit said on Friday that while Turner was constitutionally entitled to criticize the appeals court over the gun law, he was convicted for "doing something more - of threatening the lives of three judges with intent."

"The evidence was more than sufficient, moreover, for a jury to conclude that Turner's statements were not 'political hyperbole,' as he contended, but violent threats against the judges' lives," Livingston wrote for the 2nd Circuit.

The court also rejected Turner's contention that a trial judge failed to properly instruct the jury and other arguments.

The decision drew a dissent from U.S. Circuit Judge Rosemary Pooler, who said she would have reversed his conviction on the grounds that his blog post was not a true threat under the First Amendment.

"I would hold that Turner's communications were advocacy of the use of force and not a threat," Pooler wrote. "Turner's speech was advocacy rather than a threat, and therefore could not be a true threat."

A lawyer for Turner could not immediately be reached for comment, and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago, which brought the case against Turner, declined comment.

The 7th Circuit ruling on Chicago's gun law was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010. Turner has been released from prison, according to the Federal Bureau of Prison's website.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Eric Beech)

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