MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

May 5, 2014

Jury chosen for trial of Sooner Tea Party leader

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)  — A jury was seated Monday for the trial of the co-founder of the Sooner Tea Party, who is accused of trying to intimidate a state lawmaker  — a trial that is expected to focus on politics, the Oklahoma Legislature and the First Amendment.

Eight women and four men were chosen in Oklahoma County District Court for the trial of Al Gerhart, who was charged in April 2013 with blackmail and computer crimes after he allegedly sent an email to a state senator about a measure pending in the Legislature that an affidavit says “was intended to threaten and intimidate him.”

Defense attorneys have argued that the email was political speech that is protected by the First Amendment.

Gerhart, 55, has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry penalties of up to five years in prison.

Prosecution and defense attorneys will give their opening statements Tuesday. Defense attorney Stephen Lee said no decision had been made about whether Gerhart will testify in his own defense.

Gerhart has acknowledged sending an email to Sen. Cliff Branan, the chairman of the Senate Energy, Telecommunication and Environment Committee, on March 26, 2013, urging the Republican from Oklahoma City to schedule a hearing on legislation favored by his activist conservative political group.

The email involved a House-passed measure that would have prohibited state organizations from following a United Nations plan to help cities and countries become more environmentally sustainable.

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