by Garret Ean
Aug 15 2012
On Monday, Ademo Freeman was convicted of three counts of felony wiretapping after a three hour trial in Hillsborough county superior court, Manchester.
Preparing for his trial from the Valley Street jail, and spending his lunch break in a cell at the courthouse, Ademo did an excellent job explaining his actions and opening himself to responsibility for them. Unfortunately, he did not present the defense necessary to win over the twelve (likely television-watching) everypersons to understand why his was such a case as jury nullification was intended for. Press and supporters filled the gallery. The judge presented a very relaxed demeanor, a respect for the audience and (some) of their rights, which Cheshire county magistrates have caged individuals over in the past. There were limitations on the press, as only two individuals were permitted to video or audio record despite several requests. Judge Kenneth Brown openly indicated that he would not be bothering anyone who chose not to stand during commands of “All rise”. The judge first entered the room without his robe, as the audience began filling the pews. Appearing, he could have been just anyone else, neatly fitted in a shirt and tie. Behind his head was ornamented with a tree branch and stuffed bird, a decorative anomaly for usually stern courtrooms.
It is easy to understand that a jury would be inclined to vote guilty in a case where the defendant admits to violating the letter of the law. In such cases, though the saying goes that you aren’t obligated to prove your innocence, effectively you become obligated to verbally defend yourself on all fronts, a skill that lawyers are paid generously to do. Attorney Michael Valentine made numerous personal attacks on Ademo, characterizing him as lawless and explicitly stating during closing arguments, “He doesn’t want other people to have rights”. The more agregious statements came during the state’s closing, which Ademo was not permitted to respond to. Though that’s not to say that his opening statement was much more forgiving.
What you’re going to hear over the next couple days is a story about someone who rejects that premise, rejects that laws have to be followed. And he rejects, in particular, that he has to follow the laws…The defendant, what I expect you to hear is that the defendant speaks about accountability, but he doesn’t want to be held accountable. He wants you to excuse his criminal behavior. With this, with his actions, with the, with what you will see at this trial, the defendant wants to distract you. He wants you to think about something other than the law. It’s sort of a magic show. It’s watch what’s going on over here, and let him go over here.
As the more seasoned athlete in the legal game State v Mueller, Valentine knew what sort of show needed to be put on for the jury, keeping certain points precise and not allowing the opposition an opportunity to change the jurors minds from his presentation of a cut-and-dry case. Despite references to jury nullification, the case was not fully laid out. After closing statements, the judge instructed that, “You should not decide this case out of bias or sympathy, but with honesty and understanding. You should make a conscientious effort to determine what a fair and just result is in this case, because that is your highest duty as officers of this court. Your verdict must represent the considered judgement of each juror.” Within 50 minutes, the jury had done all of the thinking they were going to do, and the verdict was in.
In the rush of the triple felony trial, two key legal words eluded the courtroom the entire time: the words misdemeanor and felony. The state desires ignorant jurors, who are not allowed to be explained the law and its penalties during the course of the trial. The wiretapping statute proves difficult to read no matter what language one is schooled in. A layman’s interpretation seems to imply that there is no way Ademo could be deemed guilty of the felony portion of RSA 570-A. The statute reads,
A person is guilty of a class B felony if, except as otherwise specifically provided in this chapter or without the consent of all parties to the communication, the person:
(a) Wilfully intercepts, endeavors to intercept, or procures any other person to intercept or endeavor to intercept, any telecommunication or oral communication;
The language is quite open, seeming to apply to any third party. And reading further, the statute specifies the misdemeanor charge.
A person is guilty of a misdemeanor if, except as otherwise specifically provided in this chapter or without consent of all parties to the communication, the person knowingly intercepts a telecommunication or oral communication when the person is a party to the communication or with the prior consent of one of the parties to the communication, but without the approval required by RSA 570-A:2, II(d).
Being as how Ademo was a party to all of the conversations he is accused of recording, which level of charge did he receive? The prosecutor was charging felonies, and the judge read jury instructions including only the elements of the confusing felony verbiage of the statute. Since the words went unmentioned in court, it is entirely possible that the jury was unaware of the misdemeanor and felony distinction in the law, and were likely ignorant of their ability to convict at one or the other level. It was to the state’s advantage that the entire program was rushed.
The prosecutor urged the judge to sentence Ademo to a consecutive year in prison, including a re-education program to “correct and deter” him. The judge dismissed the corrective classes idea, and gave one-quarter of the jail sentence and suspended 1-3 years in jail for the next five years. He then said the penalty would be concurrent with his remaining Chalking 8 sentence (five days), making the ultimate penalty eighty-five days with another year remaining as a continual threat. Ademo was quickly brisked away to serve the remainder of his caged time on Valley Street.
Openly stating that a harsh sentence should be given to deter copycat behavior by supporters, Prosecutor Valentine found that among the dedicated, his attempted chilling effect has failed. William Kostric from Manchester promised Valentine after the conclusion of the trial that he would record a phone interview with captain John Hopkins regarding the outcome. Earlier today, this video was posted to youtube. Also held today was a New Hampshire house criminal justice and public safety subcommittee hearing on the problems of the wiretapping statute.