Chicago’s first jury trial of pan­demic ends with guilty ver­dict and praise from ju­rors

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY JON SEI­DEL, FED­ERAL COURTS RE­PORTER jsei­del@sun­times.com | @Sei­delCon­tent

Chicago’s first jury trial since the start of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic ended Thurs­day when fed­eral ju­rors, clad in face masks, con­victed an Ot­tawa man of threat­en­ing an FBI task force of­fi­cer and oth­ers.

That trial played out amid the “new nor­mal” that also in­cludes hand san­i­tizer and con­stant so­cial dis­tanc­ing, though. So after the trial ended, a few ju­rors of­fered their own ver­dict on the new safety pro­to­cols for jury tri­als at the Dirk­sen Fed­eral Court­house.

“I felt like they were ex­tremely thor­ough,” El­iz­a­beth Reihl said. “I think they walked through the ju­ror ex­pe­ri­ence from the very be­gin­ning — from where you park. I can tell that they looked through the full process and did ev­ery check­point.”

Un­der the new jury trial plan at Dirk­sen, ju­rors have been spread out be­yond the tra­di­tional jury box, and they’ve been al­lowed to take breaks and de­lib­er­ate in a sep­a­rate court­room. Pub­lic seat­ing has been lim­ited, and wit­nesses have been asked to wipe down the wit­ness stand when their tes­ti­mony ends. Ju­rors have also been given plas­tic bags filled with sup­plies.

“They’ve got a lit­tle hand san­i­tizer in there and san­i­tiz­ing wipes,” said El­iz­a­beth Boyd, who said she also had a pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence serv­ing as a ju­ror this week.

Reihl said jury ser­vice is a chance to see democ­racy up close. Hav­ing served on two state court ju­ries pre­vi­ously, she called it a “beau­ti­ful, beau­ti­ful thing, and it’s noth­ing to get out of or try to avoid.”

U.S. Dis­trict Judge Ed­mond Chang ac­knowl­edged the ju­rors’ un­usual ser­vice fol­low­ing the ver­dict that found Robert Haas, 40, guilty on 13 crim­i­nal counts.

“This was the first jury trial that has been held in this court­house since early March,” Chang said. “You’ve shown ex­tra­or­di­nary ded­i­ca­tion to serv­ing your com­mu­nity. It makes me proud to be an Amer­i­can.”

Ear­lier Thurs­day, As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney Barry Jonas de­liv­ered his clos­ing ar­gu­ment while masked and seated at the gov­ern­ment ta­ble. He still moved around in his chair and ges­tured with his hands for ef­fect, telling ju­rors that Haas was an “an­gry per­son” with anti-Semitic be­liefs. He said that wasn’t why Haas was on trial, though.

“This case is not about his be­liefs,” Jonas said. “It’s not about his anger. It’s not about his ha­tred. This case is about the threats.”

Pros­e­cu­tors said Haas crossed a le­gal line when he lev­eled sev­eral threats to­ward an FBI task force of­fi­cer and oth­ers through text mes­sages, voice­mails and on­line so­cial me­dia posts, as well as in recorded com­ments fol­low­ing his ar­rest in June 2019.

“I don’t care if it’s a cop, prose­cu­tor, judge, politi­cian or elite,” Haas al­legedly wrote in one on­line post. “You try to stop me from telling the truth I will cut ev­ery throat in your home. Try me!”

Haas rep­re­sented him­self and tes­ti­fied Wed­nes­day with help of a stand-by at­tor­ney ap­pointed by the judge. Dur­ing his cros­sex­am­i­na­tion, he ad­mit­ted mak­ing sev­eral of the com­ments at is­sue. As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney Erin Kelly even asked him whether he be­lieved the FBI task force of­fi­cer should be killed.

“In a way, yes, I do,” Haas said. Dur­ing his clos­ing ar­gu­ment Thurs­day, Haas said he was goaded into mak­ing the com­ments by fed­eral agents who tried to chill his First Amend­ment rights. He pre­vi­ously told the ju­rors he lived in Moscow for a year and “found a lot of things that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and the peo­ple who pro­vide our me­dia to us are hid­ing from us.”

“They don’t want you to see the real threat be­cause it’s so dis­gust­ing that it will change your opin­ion,” Haas said Thurs­day.

SUN-TIMES FILE

The city’s first jury trial since the start of the COVID-19 pan­demic ended Thurs­day when fed­eral ju­rors, clad in face masks, con­victed an Ot­tawa man of threat­en­ing an FBI task force of­fi­cer and oth­ers.

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