The trial of Oklahoma political activist Al Gerhart resulted in a guilty conviction for blackmailing a state senator. It is no surprise to those politically active within the state. Gerhart has repeatedly proved himself a high volume bully with limited intellectual capacity and absolutely no social grace. Gerhart has a checkered past in political circles rejected and rebuked repeatedly by establishment and Tea Party organizations within both the Republican and Libertarian movements.
By trade an Oklahoma City carpenter, Gerhart did not get any prison time. Jurors decided a $1,000 fine should be the only punishment for this felony offense. Now a convicted felon; Gerhart may exit the public arena, but don’t bet on it.
“The jury held him accountable,” prosecutor Scott Rowland told the Oklahoman afterward. “They obviously worked very hard to make the punishment fit the crime. I think they got it right. … I suspect the jury believes this will be an appropriate deterrent to him and others.”
Convicted of blackmail for sending Sen. Cliff Branan an email last year demanding passage of a bill in a Senate committee, Gerhart was also found guilty of violating the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act for using a computer to accomplish the blackmail. Jurors chose no fine or prison time on the second felony offense.
Gerhart, 55, turned down a plea deal before trial that would have given him unsupervised probation for a year and no felony convictions.
The Oklahoman reported further:
A dejected Gerhart said the verdicts against him “just chills free speech.”
“Who is going to want to risk holding a politician accountable at this point?” he said. “I lost a thousand dollars. I became a felon. I lost my voting rights. I lost my gun rights. I’m probably getting off easy compared to the rest of society, though.”
He said he will appeal.
The jury of eight women and four men deliberated almost eight hours Wednesday at the Oklahoma County Courthouse.
“This is crazy,” defense attorney Kevin Adams told jurors in closing arguments Wednesday morning. “This is what we do in America. We have the right to free speech.”
“He tried to hijack the political process. He tried to cheat,” the prosecutor said in his closing arguments. “It corrupts the process. That’s why this case is important.”