CHICAGO – In dozens of handwritten pages, jailed white supremacist Matt Hale is arguing for his freedom or a new trial as he approaches a Nov. 15 sentencing date for his conviction for murder solicitation.
A federal magistrate judge in August allowed Hale, a 33-year-old East Peorian, to represent himself. Since then, Hale – who has a law degree from Southern Illinois University, but was turned down when he applied for an Illinois law license – has been churning out post-trial motions from a downtown Chicago jail. His only assistance has come from a court-appointed “standby” counsel.
A jury in April found Hale guilty of encouraging follower Tony Evola – actually an FBI informant – to kill U.S. District Court Judge Joan Lefkow. In late 2002, Lefkow had barred Hale’s organization from using the name World Church of the Creator because it is trademarked by another group.
“I am the victim of a horrible mistake,” Hale wrote in late August. “That mistake is the presumption by the government that I thought that Tony Evola was talking about Judge Lefkow when he said he was going to ‘exterminate the rat.'”
Evola made that cryptic statement during a taped conversation in December 2002, and it was a central part of the government’s case that Hale, who did not forcefully reject the offer, condoned violence against his enemies. Hale did not testify during his trial.
Hale counters in the filing that the jury assumed Evola was referring to Lefkow when the informant also had mentioned two attorneys who fought Hale’s group in the trademark dispute.
“At best, there was a 33 percent chance that I thought he was referring to Judge Lefkow, and a 33 percent chance can hardly be considered by any rational jury as proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Hale said.
U.S. District Judge James Moody has not responded to Hale or his requests for court hearings. Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weisman has argued that Hale exceeded a 60-day deadline for post-trial motions and that “the defendant is simply seeking a ‘do-over.'”
Hale’s filings are the first publicly accessible communications he has made since he was taken into federal custody in January 2003. Authorities have imposed unusually tight restrictions on Hale’s detention because they contend he could influence others to commit violence.
In a Sept. 24 filing, Hale says the jury that convicted him of murder solicitation may have wrongly interpreted the crime’s definition in instructions they were given. During their deliberations, the jury asked Moody whether they had to agree on a series of four terms used to describe the offense, then zeroed in on one of the words, “induce.”
Hale said it’s impossible for him to have induced Evola because the informant was working for the government and because Lefkow was never harmed.
“By means of analogy, if I were charged with inducing someone to jump off a cliff, the person would have had to indeed done so,” Hale wrote. “If he didn’t, I simply did not induce him.”
Hale also was convicted of three counts of obstructing justice and faces several years in prison.
His white supremacist group grew in notoriety after one of its followers, Benjamin Smith, went on a racially motivated shooting spree in July 1999 that left two minorities dead and several wounded. Hale’s secretly taped comments praising Smith were played at trial.
Hale also can appeal his conviction to a higher court.