A Mecosta County man was convicted Thursday of jury tampering for distributing fliers outside the Big Rapids courthouse entitled “Your Jury Rights: True or False?’’
Jurors found 41-year-old Keith Eric Wood guilty of trying to influence jurors with the pamphlets he distributed on a sidewalk in Nov. 2015 as potential jurors entered the building.
Wood, a father of eight, said he was disappointed with the verdict and plans to appeal.
“We really hoped that the jury would see that I wasn’t intentionally trying to tamper or influence with actual jurors in a case; that wasn’t the intent,’’ he said outside the courtroom. “It doesn’t look good for free speech, let’s put it that way.’’
The jury of three men and three women deliberated about 30 minutes before returning the guilty verdict. Wood, who remains free on bond, faces up to a year in jail when he returns for sentencing next month.
Prosecutors say he was trying to influence potential jurors in a case involving Andy Yoder, an Amish man charged with illegally filling in wetlands near Stanwood in 2013. About 80 Amish citizens were in the courthouse at the time. Yoder entered a plea; the case never went to trial.
Wood contends he wanted to inform potential jurors that they have the right to vote their conscience when deliberating.
During closing arguments Thursday, June 1, Mecosta County Assistant Prosecutor Nathan Hull said Wood had an interest in the Yoder case and attended a hearing earlier in the month.
“What made this illegal was specifically how the defendant did it,’’ he told jurors. "He did not go to a Walmart. He chose the date of the Yoder trial. The time that jurors would be appearing for the trial. And one of the only two entrances jurors had to walk through.’’
Defense attorney David Kallman said the charge of jury tampering is improper because no one entering the courthouse had been seated on a jury.
“We’re here because of this brochure,’’ Kallman told jurors in closing statements. “Read it cover to cover. It says nothing about the Yoder case. It says nothing about Mecosta County courts. It says nothing about the state of Michigan. It is a general information pamphlet; you can agree or disagree with the content.’’
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.
Wood also faced a more serious charge of obstruction of justice, but that charge was dismissed in March, 2016.
Distributed by the Montana-based Fully Informed Jury Association, the pamphlet informs potential jurors they have the right to vote their conscience when deliberating.
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.