CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) — White supremacist leader Matthew Hale, whose gospel of “racial holy war” was linked to a follower’s deadly shooting rampage five years ago, was found guilty Monday of trying to have a federal judge killed.
Hale, 32, was found guilty of four of the five charges against him. He was found innocent of one of two counts of soliciting the murder of a federal judge. The judge was not attacked.
Prosecutors said Hale was furious after U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow ordered him to stop using the name World Church of the Creator. Lefkow had ordered Hale to stop using the name because it had been trademarked by an Oregon-based religious group that has no ties to Hale.
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Hale sat with his hands clasped on the table as the verdicts were read. He dipped his head slightly but showed no other reaction.
Hale never testified during the two-week trial, and chief defense counsel Thomas Anthony Durkin called no witnesses, saying the prosecution’s evidence was the weakest he had seen in a major case.
The defense argued that Hale never asked anyone to kill the judge and that the FBI used an informant to draw him into a murder plot.
During the trial, jurors heard more than a dozen tapes of Hale using racial slurs, including one in which he laughs about the 1999 shooting rampage by one of his followers, Benjamin Smith. Smith targeted minorities and killed two people, including former Northwestern University basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong.
Smith’s three-day rampage across Illinois and Indiana left nine people wounded and only ended when he shot himself as police closed in, bringing the death toll to three.
Evidence on tape
In Hale’s trial, prosecutors focused on one tape of a brief, veiled exchange recorded December 17, 2002, when the FBI informant, Anthony Evola, showed up unannounced at Hale’s East Peoria home. Lefkow had issued her order a month earlier.
“Are we gonna exterminate the rat?” Evola can be heard asking Hale on the tape, which Evola testified meant Lefkow.
“Well, whatever you want to do, basically,” Hale replied.
Moments later, Hale added: “My position has always been that, you know, I’m going to fight within the law and, but, ah, that information’s been provided if you wish to, ah, do anything, yourself, you can. So that makes it clear.”
“Consider it done,” Evola said.
U.S. District Judge James T. Moody did not immediately set a sentencing date.
Solicitation of murder carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Hale could also get a maximum of 10 years on each of three counts of obstruction of justice.
After the verdict Durkin, who said he planned to appeal, said he believed prosecutors targeted Hale after that incident.
“I think they set out to get Hale the day of the Ben Smith shootings and they’ve accomplished that,” Durkin said.
But U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said the trial’s outcome sends the message “that we will not wait for the trigger to be pulled.”
Evola testified that he was introduced to Hale while working as a pizza delivery man and that Hale wanted him to distribute pamphlets to schoolchildren. Instead, he testified, he called the Chicago Public Schools to warn them about the racist material.
The school system put Evola in touch with a police detective assigned to the FBI-led federal Anti-Terrorism Task Force. The FBI asked him to infiltrate Hale’s group.
In the months that followed, Evola became chief of Hale’s white-beret security squad and frequently traveled with him.
Hale earned a law degree and passed the bar exam but was denied a license in 1999 by an Illinois committee that rules on the “character and fitness” of prospective lawyers.
The panel held that his racist views would prevent him from fulfilling a lawyer’s duty not to discriminate against participants in court cases. He unsuccessfully appealed the decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.