BIG RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It took a Mecosta County jury less than half an hour Thursday to find a former pastor guilty of a misdemeanor for trying to influence a separate jury in 2015.
Keith Wood, a 41-year-old father of eight, was arrested while handing out literature outside the courthouse in Big Rapids telling jurors they didn’t have to follow the law. The brochure in question described the controversial proposition that jurors can rule according to their own sense of justice regardless of what the law or a judge says.
The defense hoped to use the case to put the justice system on trial. Over two days of proceedings, witnesses called to testify included a judge, court employees and jurors. But it’s Wood who now faces the possibility of jail.
“This is a serious implication on free speech rights, I believe,” Wood said after the verdict was handed down.
A judge’s narrow rulings kept this jury focused on whether Wood was trying to sway a jury in the trial of a local Amish landowner.
Wood’s Lansing-based attorney David Kallman argued his client was on a public sidewalk exercising his First Amendment rights. Thursday, Wood took the stand in his own defense.
When asked by Kallman if he was trying to influence jurors in the trial, Wood replied, “Absolutely not.”
But Chief Assistant Prosecutor Nathan Hull noted that Wood didn’t hand out the pamphlets any other day before Nov. 24, 2015. Wood admitted he knew the trial was scheduled for that day, but said he did not know who the jurors were.
The defense was not allowed to talk about the nature of Wood’s arrest or the 12 hours he spent in jail before maxing out his credit cards to pay a $150,000 bond.
“I understand they don’t like it, but you know what? In our country, again, we can still speak freely — at least I think we can,” Kallman said in the court.
“It was very clear that the government did not meet their burden to restrict my free speech on that public sidewalk that day,” Wood said after the trial. “It was very clear.”
Wood, the former pastor turned insurance representative, faces as much as a year in jail when he is sentenced on July 21. He said he will appeal.
**Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Wood’s age as 39. He is actually 41. The text has been updated. We regret the error.