Trial: Free speech or jury tampering?

BIG RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Mecosta County pastor was flanked by supporters as he faced a judge and jury Wednesday, charged with trying to influence the jury in a 2015 case.

Prosecutors say Keith Wood’s decision to hand out pamphlets on the so-called rights of a juror outside of a courthouse was illegal. They say his goal was to sway the ruling in a case in which he was involved.

The pamphlets in question did not mention details of the case Woods involved himself in, which involved an Amish man’s dispute with the state about wetlands. The pamphlet says it aims to tell jurors rights that the judge doesn’t want them to know about. It encourages them to consider things like the constitutionality of law and whether the punishment fits the crime — considerations jurors are specifically instruction not to make.

“I thought this was going to trash my jury trial, basically,” District Court Judge Peter Jaklevic testified. “It just didn’t sound right.”

In opening statements, the prosecution claimed that Wood crossed a line when he passed out the pamphlets.

“In the end, what’s important to note is it doesn’t matter what the pamphlet says as long as the pamphlet is trying to persuade jurors,” Chief Assistant Prosecutor Nathan Hull said.

But the defense questioned whether anything Wood did actually broke the law, saying the prosecution won’t be able to prove a crime was committed.

“Bottom line, ladies and gentlemen, it’s not to enough to hand out a general information pamphlet with somebody’s perspective — right or wrong — on what juror rights are. 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,” defense attorney David Kallman said.

Testimony is slated to continue Thursday.

Wood faces a misdemeanor jury tampering charge. If convicted, he faces 93 days in jail. A felony charge of obstructing justice was previously dismissed.