BIG RAPIDS, MICH. - Trial got underway Wednesday for a Mecosta County man charged with jury tampering for distributing pamphlets outside the Big Rapids courthouse in Nov. 2015 informing potential jurors of their rights.
Keith Eric Wood is accused of trying to influence jurors with the pamphlets entitled “Your Jury Rights: True or False?’’
Prosecutors say he was trying to influence the case involving Andy Yoder, an Amish man charged with illegally filling in wetlands. About 80 Amish citizens were in the courthouse the morning Yoder's case was on the docket. Wood, 41, was on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse, pamphlets in hand.
The father of eight contends he wanted to inform potential jurors that they have the right to vote their conscience when deliberating.
During opening statements Wednesday, May 31, Mecosta County Assistant Prosecutor Nathan Hull said Wood had an interest in the Yoder case and attended hearings earlier in the month.
“He had a plan. He didn’t like what was going on in the Yoder case,’’ Hull told the jury of five women and three men. “He wanted to persuade the jurors. He wanted to affect the outcome of the case.’’
Not so, contends defense attorney David A. Kallman.
“This comes down to, what does it really mean to try to influence a juror in the sense that you’re violating the law?’’ Kallman said in opening statements. “I defy you to find anything in this brochure that talks about the Yoder case, about wetlands, about his dissatisfaction with anything to do with that case.’’
If convicted of the misdemeanor charge, Wood faces up to a year in jail. He was facing a more serious charge of obstruction of justice, but a Mecosta County judge dismissed that count in March, 2016.
Wood was standing on the sidewalk in front of the Mecosta County courthouse on the morning of Nov. 24, 2015, handing out the tri-folded pamphlet to people entering the court building.
When District Court Judge Peter Jaklevic saw several potential jurors with the pamphlets, he ordered court staff to tell Wood to stop. Wood refused, but went into the courthouse to speak with Jaklevic at the judge’s request. Jaklevic, elected to the bench in Nov. 2014, ordered Wood arrested for jury tampering.
At the time of his arrest, no jury had been sworn in on any case, Kallman contends.
Although Jaklevic normally would have heard the case, he took himself out of the mix to avoid a conflict of interest. The trial is being heard by Mecosta County Circuit Court Judge Kimberly L. Booher.
“What’s really going on here, ladies and gentlemen, this has got information in it that the prosecutor didn’t like,’’ Kallman told jurors while holding up the pamphlet. “Whether Mr. Wood likes the jury system or not is not the issue. And that’s not what he’s on trial here for. But he really is.’’
Hull argued that the pamphlets were used to affect the outcome of a pending case by means of persuasion outside the courtroom.
“Under the title was a caption reading, ‘what rights do you have as a juror that the judge won’t tell you about,’’’ he said. “It implies and sometimes outright says that judges and courts cannot be trusted.’’
Distributed by the Montana-based Fully Informed Jury Association, the pamphlet informs potential jurors they have the right to vote their conscience when deliberating.
Kallman says the jury tampering charge is bogus because no jurors had been seated during the time Wood was handing out the fliers.
The case garnered national attention when a magistrate set bond at $150,000, deeming the insurance salesman a potential flight risk. Wood was eventually released after posting 10 percent of the bond, or $15,000.
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