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Trial begins for man accused of jury tampering after passing out juror rights pamphlets

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BIG RAPIDS, Mich. -- The trial began Wednesday for a man initially charged with a five-year felony for handing out juror rights pamphlets on a sidewalk outside the Mecosta County courthouse. It's a case FOX 17's Dana Chicklas broke in December 2015 that made national headlines.

The case has unique First Amendment implications that will give perspective on the extent of the right to free speech.

In Dec. 2015, Keith Wood spoke exclusively on camera with FOX 17 when he said, "I truly believe in my heart of hearts I didn't do anything wrong, I didn't break the law."

On Nov. 24, 2015 Wood, the father of seven and a former pastor, was arrested after passing out about 50 Fully Informed Jury Association fliers on the sidewalk in front of the Mecosta County Courthouse on the day of another trial. The fliers discuss juror rights including those that are debated and often not read by judges in jury instructions: including a juror's right to vote their conscience, or jury nullification.

Wood was initially charged with a five-year felony for obstructing justice, a one-year misdemeanor for attempting to influence a jury and his bond was set at $150,000. His felony charge was dropped last March and he is now on trial for alleged jury tampering.

Wednesday attorneys began their opening arguments:

"This is not a case about the Yoder trial, about the Amish community, about the wetlands violations, or about the Department of Environmental Quality or anything of the facts surrounding this case," said Nathan Hull, Mecosta County assistant Prosecutor.

"This is a trial about whether the defendant Mr. Wood broke the law by attempting to influence the decisions of jurors in a specific case."

The day of his arrest, Nov. 24, 2015, an Amish man Andy Yoder was scheduled to be on trial for allegedly illegally draining wetlands in violation of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Wood is accused of specifically tampering with at least two prospective jurors who were being sat that day for Yoder's trial.

Wednesday the prosecutor showed video footage of Yoder's pre-trial conference: it was earlier November 2015 and Wood was one of the many who packed the courtroom. It's important to note, according to testimony Wednesday, the jury pool for Yoder's case was dismissed Nov. 24, 2015: the case ended that day with a plea deal and the prospective jurors never went to trial.

Wood's Defense Attorney David Kallman argued to the jury that the fliers Wood passed out had no mention of any case, and only discussed jury rights.

"It’s not enough to hand out a general information pamphlet with somebody’s perspective, right or wrong, on what juror rights are," said Kallman.

"Do we have the right to speak freely and express our opinions when it’s not directed at a specific case? That’s what this is about."

Several prospective jurors, who received jury rights pamphlets from Wood on the day of question, testified.

"[Wood] handed me the pamphlet and said, 'Do you know what your rights [are] as a juror?'" said Theresa DeVries.

Then DNR Det. Janet Erlandson, who was coming to possibly testify in the Yoder trial that day in November 2015, testified Wednesday that she took a pamphlet from Wood. She said Wood was blocking the sidewalk and asked him to move, then later ended up assisting with his arrest.

"I didn't know who was a juror and who was not a juror," Det. Erlandson recalled walking into the Mecosta County courthouse that day.

Mecosta County District Judge Peter Jaklevic, former long-time Mecosta County prosecutor, testified Wednesday. He said he was "very concerned" when he saw some of his jury pool carrying the pamphlets into the courtroom. The magistrate testified earlier that he believes 12 to 20 people had the pamphlets.

"My concerns had to do with extra-judicial information, information being brought from outside the courtroom, " said Judge Jaklevic.

"It appeared to me to be an effort to bring information to the jury's attention that wasn't from the court."

Jaklevic says he stepped into the hallway with Mecosta County Prosecutor Brian Thiede when Det. Erlandson and a deputy brought Wood into the courthouse. Mecosta County Deputy Jeff Roberts testified he "asked Wood to come inside because the Judge wanted to talk with him," then threatened to call a city cop if Wood did not come inside. Wood initially declined saying he knows his rights, Roberts said.

"[Wood] was asked if he was the one passing out the pamphlets, [Wood] said yes, and I was told to arrest him for jury tampering," said Roberts.

Several witnesses testified that Thiede ordered Wood's arrest that day.

Wood's trial will resume Thursday morning. Stay with FOX 17 for updates.

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  • Jack Grenan

    Hmm You can pass out Neo Nazi material, anti Irish, Anti anything, ….second amendment does not say no info on juries, that I know of, he can yell outside the courthouse I AM INNOCENT and that is free speech, so WHAT IS THIS JUDGES PROBLEM???

  • James Babb

    Thank you for your service, Keith Wood. It’s insane that this has gone this far. Why are prosecutors terrified by a 100% factual pamphlet, distributed on a public sidewalk? The judge, prosecutor, and sheriff need to be held accountable.

    • Michael

      Who decides what is factual in what’s being passed out? Sovereign citizens often claim things as factual that are far from the truth.

      The best way to get factual information is from the court. The judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney should be in control of what the jurors are told- not some random person passing out what he sees as “facts”

      • Jim Ford

        The problem Michael is the judge is only going to tell the jury that they have to decide on the law that is presented. If it is an unjust law, the jury has the right to express that and this pamphlet lets the jury know all, not just what the judge wants them to know, but all of their rights as jurors. The jury can actually nullify a law if they think it is unjust. Try to get a copy of that pamphlet and see what the judges and lawyers are scared of.

    • Michael

      If you were on trial would you want the jurors getting information from an outside source or would you want them given information that was approved by your defense attorney?

      It goes both ways.

        • Michael

          Legally correct and what the jury is allowed to hear because of rules of evidence and due process are two completely different things.

          A jury should get its information from the judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, and witnesses. Not the media, the internet, or some random guy in the parking lot that has an interest in a case.

          • James Babb

            The pamphlet had nothing to with any evidence, any particular case, or suggested any particular verdict. It just explains the undisputed rights of jurors.

      • John Stinson

        The majority of Americans fail to know there basic rights! Jury nullification is seldom discussed and is definitely under utilized! The job of the prosecutors is to keep jails full to make money for the state. Most people are statists and heavily depend on an authority do dictate any decision he or she should make! I have several of these pamphlets in my possession and strongly feel that they should be required reading for any citizen. I should also add that it is good bathroom reading to keep you fluent. Most judges will dismiss anyone who believes in jury nullification during juror selection. The overreaching laws are allowed to dictate freedom because of this lack of knowledge!

  • Susan

    ” ‘My concerns had to do with the extra-judicial information, information being brought from outside the courtroom,’ said Judge Jaklevic.” ……….. A juror’s education and conscience comes FROM OUTSIDE THE COURTROOM! And if the education, conscience and opinion of each individual juror must be stifled by the opinions of the control-freak judge in charge, why do they bother with juries at all — why not just feed the facts (as perceived by the judge) into a computer and let the computer make the decision?

  • Rick Mage

    Informing citizens of what 11-year-old children should know, already, is NOT jury tampering. Jury nullification is not a First Amendment right or a government-sanctioned privilege. It is a natural given right that no man has the authority to take away.

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