S.D. federal jury: Oregon man threatened president
By The Associated Press
A federal jury in Sioux Falls, S.D., took just over an hour to return a guilty verdict last week in the case of an Oregon man accused of making threats against President Bush.
Meanwhile, a Pennsylvania man says he'll fight disorderly conduct charges stemming from his arrest during Bush's visit to that state last week.
In the South Dakota case, Richard Humphreys, of Portland, Ore., was arrested in Sioux Falls in March 2001, and indicted on a federal charge of threatening to kill or harm the president. The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
A jury of seven men and five women received the case at mid-afternoon on Sept. 5.
Earlier that day, Humphreys told the jury that a comment about a "burning Bush" before President Bush's visit to Sioux Falls last year was a prophecy that offers First Amendment protection.
Humphreys, who calls himself prophet Israel Humphreys, said a similar reference he made in an Internet Christian chat room was a joke and that neither can be viewed as a threat on the president.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Ridgeway said the Secret Service and people who heard the remark thought otherwise.
"It wasn't a joke. It wasn't funny. Simply put, it was a threat," Ridgeway told the jury during Humphreys' trial.
"The documents, his actions, his words all speak to one thing," Ridgeway said in closing arguments.
Humphreys said his trip to South Dakota was the fourth of his "discipleship journeys" that began in 1993 and are meant to promote Christianity through controversial acts or unusual public statements.
He said he has been arrested 25 times with all but three cases dismissed and that his indictment on the threat charge was the result of government profiling.
Humphreys said he left Portland on March 1, 2001, and arrived in Watertown on March 8 where he got into a 1:20 a.m. barroom discussion with a truck driver about Christians who drink too much alcohol.
Realizing that President Bush was to visit Sioux Falls the next day, a bartender told police that Humphreys talked about a "burning Bush" and the possibility of someone pouring a flammable liquid on Bush and lighting it.
"I said God might speak to the world through a burning Bush... . I had said that before and I thought it was funny. It was prophetizing," Humphreys testified.
He was taken into custody the next day at a Sioux Falls motel just hours before the president arrived. Humphreys said he didn't threaten the president and didn't know he was visiting Sioux Falls.
Meanwhile in the Pennsylvania case, Bill Neel says speech isn't free if he had to speak behind a fence during the president's Sept. 2 visit to Neville Island, Pa.
"The police told me I had to be in the designated free-speech area. That's a contradiction in terms," said Neel, 65, who along with his sister, Joyce, 50, were the only two people arrested during Bush's Labor Day visit to Neville Island, upstream of Pittsburgh in the Ohio River.
Neel, of Butler, Pa., refused to join other Bush protesters inside a baseball field behind a fence and was arrested as he held a sign, reading: "The Bushes must truly love the poor they've made so many of them."
Neville police Superintendent Edward Selzer said most people cooperated with the protester corral, which was ordered by the Secret Service.
"You can't deny them the right to demonstrate, but you can restrict where they demonstrate," Selzer said. "It's best for everybody that way."
Bush's visit to Neville Island was the first by a president since Franklin Roosevelt came in the 1930s.
In the Sioux Falls case, Humphreys acted as his own attorney in the case, with occasional help from public defender William Delaney, who sat behind him in the spectator section of the courtroom.
When it was time for Humphreys to present his case, he questioned two witnesses and then took the stand to answer questions from Delaney and read a lengthy portion from the Bible.
With Delaney's questioning completed, Humphreys began recounting his version of the events and his activities of the past nine years. As his narrative approached 45 minutes, Ridgeway more frequently challenged the relevance of it and Humphreys then rested his case.
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