Update: Local Tea Party leader guilty found guilty of blackmail

UPDATE: 5/7 – Wednesday evening jurors found local tea party leader Al Gerhart guilty of blackmail and violation of the Computer Crimes Act.

According to Assistant District Attorney Scott Rowland, Gerhart was fined $1000 and will not get any prison time.

Gerhart’s formal sentencing is set for July 22.

 

In court Al Gerhart stood by his harsh words.

In an e-mail to Senator Cliff Branan, he wrote “Branan, get that bill heard or I will make sure you regret not doing it. I will make you the laughing stock of the Senate.” He continues the e-mail saying, “We will dig into your past, your family, your associates and once we start on you there will be no end to it.”

Gerhart’s attorney argued he had the first amendment on his side to challenge an elected official.

“This is a citizen using free speech to try to influence a legislature. That is nothing outside the bounds of what is acceptable in public discourse,” said attorney Ed Blau.

Attorney Blau is not representing either side, but sat in during the trial.

He thinks the defense’s strategy is to show this letter was not a threat.

Blau said, “I also expect the defense to try to paint Senator Branan as skidish, as weak, as someone who just couldn’t take these kind of hardball tactics and basically paint him as a wimp.”

After lunch recess, the defense did just that.

The defense challenged the Senator on why he didn’t notify police about the email right away.

On the stand Branan stated when he read the email, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.

He also stated he didn’t tell his wife until almost two days later and she urged him to contact authorities.

The prosecution believes the criminal line was clearly crossed.

Attorney David Slane said, “I think that maybe they are trying to send the message that you can go to far that even people who are elected to office don’t have to stand for threats if you go to far,”

Attorney Slane says that message needs to resonate with jurors if the prosecution wants a conviction.

The trial resumes Wednesday morning and is expected to wrap up on Thursday.