Federal Prosecutors Face Anti-Government Sentiment in the West Clashes over Land Sometimes Sour Jurors

By Nicholas K. Geranios Of The | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), April 7, 1997 | Go to article overview

Federal Prosecutors Face Anti-Government Sentiment in the West Clashes over Land Sometimes Sour Jurors


Nicholas K. Geranios Of The, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


One juror did it.

Twice recently in federal domestic terrorism trials held in Washington state, single jurors held out against 11 voting for conviction on the most serious charges.

The holdouts have not said why they could not vote with the others. But as jury selection proceeds in the trial of Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing, and as the government prepares its case against Unabomber suspect Theodore Kaczynski, experts warn that federal prosecutors may face special obstacles in the West, where anti-government sentiment runs high in the general population. In the West, people who challenge authority - from Gordon Call of the anti-tax Posse Comitatus to white-separatist Randy Weaver on Idaho's Ruby Ridge - are often viewed as heroes. "People are fed up with the government," said Gary Perlstein, a criminologist at Portland State University in Oregon who specializes in domestic terrorism studies. "Many people, including myself at times, see that some of these people have at least some things on their side," Perlstein said. Fertile Ground The West is such fertile ground for anti-government sentiment, he said, in part because it contains so much federal land - and cedes so much federal control. No studies yet offer statistical proof that Western juries acquit a disproportionate number of domestic-terrorism defendants, but anecdotal evidence indicates that that is the case, Perlstein said. That contention is disputed by Bruce Black, a former federal prosecutor now in private law practice in Denver. It may be that prosecutors are overreaching by trying to link crimes such as pipe bombing to political ideologies, Black said. That can backfire with some jurors. "People should be allowed to think what they want to think," Black said. Juries in trials involving bombings of family planning clinics sometimes include people who sympathize with anti-abortion defendants, said Ron Noble, a law professor at New York University.

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