[Fwd from anonymous individual. May contain format irregularities.]
The following is a commented excerpt from Gore Vidal's Burr, a book sympathetic to Aaron Burr, who was narrowly acquitted of treason against the US by a grand jury in Virginia in 1807.
Like Henson's case, it shows American justice at its worst. As Vidal put into the mouth of Burr in this "novel," "'Between the dishonest canting of Jefferson and the poisonous egotism of Hamilton, this state has been no good from the beginning. . . . But I can assure you that that early republic of ours was no place for a man who wanted to live in a good world .. . . .'" Vidal depicts Burr's adventurous trek toward Mexico as a quixotic flight from an already corrupt US to a land that he meant to make into a paradise.
According to Vidal's account, Burr met with every possible legal and illegal intervention from Jefferson, who is depicted at this point as bearing fanatical hatred of Burr. Vidal's characterization of the abuse of the legal system is similar to that practiced by Scientology in arresting and convicting Henson. The book postulates that justice can be suspended for the sake of a personal, government or corporate vendetta, or, as Vidal has Burr say, "Where there is law, I fear no man." The question is, where is law?
Vidal's version of Burr's memoirs on the subject of his arrest and eventual trial by a grand jury starts with his surrender to authorities:
"I gladly surrendered myself to the governor of the Mississippi Territory on January 17, 1807. I say gladly because I knew that if I were to come under Wilkinson's jurisdiction, I would not live long enough to have my day in court, or anywhere else."
Burr's accuser was General James Wilkinson, commander of the US army and "dictator" of New Orleans, who was known to be in the pay of Spain and naturally opposed Burr's purpose of conquering Mexico. Wilkinson had pretended to agree with Burr's plan and had secretly promised support. Then he betrayed Burr to Jefferson and added the charge that Burr meant to take a portion of the Western United States as well as Mexico. A judge who was the father-in-law of Jefferson's attorney general refused to release Burr from bail despite a grand jury verdict that he was not guilty.
Wilkinson sent agents to kill Burr, and in order to evade them he could not appear in court. "I sent word to the court that whenever I was needed I would present myself, preferably under guard; but that for the present I preferred to go into hiding since my life was in danger. My bail was promptly (and illegally) forfeited, and the Governor was persuaded to offer $2,000 to anyone who might capture the dangerous Aaron Burr."
Burr's friends and "co-conspirators" were arrested and imprisoned. Burr went into hiding but was eventually reported to authorities by an opportunistic bounty-hunter. When the sheriff was sent to detain him, he tried to merely show Burr out of his jurisdiction, but the hunter had also alerted US army troops, who arrested Burr and escorted him to Richmond, Virginia, where Jefferson apparently meant to control both his fellow countrymen and his cousin, former Chief Justice John Marshall, who became the judge in another grand jury trial of Burr.
Meanwhile, Jefferson had been hinting darkly that there was a conspiracy of treason afoot and had been challenged by John Randolph concerning details of this allegation. Finally, Jefferson had "named Aaron Burr as 'the principal actor, whose guilt is placed beyond question.' Categorically, Jefferson declared that I had wanted to sever the union at the Alleghenies but that when I had found the west impervious to my schemes, I had then decided to seize New Orleans, rob the local banks, and then go on to Mexico. Jefferson was never a fanatic when it came to evidence. Although he mentioned various letters he had received testifying to my guilt, he did not say who had written them. . . .
"Of all people, John Adams [the author of the alien and sedition laws during his own presidency--not unlike the current special laws today to fight "terrorism"] asserted the moral--not to mention legal--principle. 'If Burr's guilt is as clear as the noonday sun, the first Magistrate ought not to have pronounced it so before a Jury had tried him.' The day after [Jefferson's] message to Congress, he instructed his Senate whip . . . to call a secret session of the Senate in order to suspend the constitutional right of habeas corpus. This was aimed at keeping Swartwout and Dr. Bollman [who could have testified to Burr's innocence of the charge of treason] in government custody. . . . the Senate obediently suspended habeas corpus. . . . Then Jefferson's own son-in-law . . . declared that 'never under this government has personal liberty been held at the will of a single individual.' The House refused to suspend habeas corpus. Nevertheless, Dr. Bollman and Swartwout were still in a military prison at Washington City and for the moment beyond the reach of the Constitution."
Burr himself appeared to be "beyond the reach of the Constitution," locked in a tavern in Richmond awaiting the selection of a grand jury from a pool of jurors who all admitted that they considered him guilty. In the meantime, Jefferson and US attorney John Hay had Bollman brought to them for questioning. Without benefit of attorney, Bollman told them the whole story of his and Burr's "conspiracy," showing that there was nothing treasonous about it. Jefferson and Hay had Bollman sign a statement as to his confession, but Jefferson promised not to disclose it, a promise he later broke. (Remember that Henson was interrogated in handcuffs and without benefit of attorney, medication or sustenance by Riverside county Sheriff Department. His humorous justification of his exercise of free speech by picketing was later used against him.)
Hay prosecuted the case himself for the Government. In order to impanel a jury, Marshall ruled that a loosely held prejudice against the accused wasn't as bad as a "deliberately" held prejudice, and that although the entire pool was contaminated a jury could be selected from it. Burr moved that eight people (The number hasn't always been 12 in all places.) be selected at random from the pool, to which Hay agreed, and it was done.
John Randolph was selected as jury foreman, although he was outspoken against Burr. "George Hay press[ed] his charges. He wanted me imprisoned and held without bail... . . Marshall . . . said that a prisoner could only be let go when it appeared that the charges against him were 'wholly groundless.' He did not believe that I fell into that category. On the other hand, he stated firmly that the law may not allow 'the hand of malignity' to 'grasp any individual against whom its hate may be directed or whom it may capriciously seize, charge him with some secret crime and put him on the proof of his innocence.' . . . Marshall saw no convincing evidence at this point that I had assembled troops for a treasonable purpose, and so bailed me in the sum of $10,000, and bade me answer the charge of misdemeanor (plotting a war against Spain). . . ."
Note that Burr and Henson were both charged with misdemeanors, although both their lives were at stake due on the one hand to the charge of treason (albeit misdemeanor treason) against Burr and on the other to the threats against Henson's life if he went to jail.
"Jefferson now took over the prosecution. Day after day he sent messengers to the west to collect (or create) evidence and witnesses. It ought to be noted here that in a number of Jefferson's private conversations during this period, he admitted quite freely that my designs were obviously on Mexico. Yet, publicly, he persisted in his efforts to mark me as a separatist and so a traitor. Mark me? No, hang me!"
Burr and Marshall attended a Richmond dinner without Burr's prior knowledge of Marshall's invitation. They had a public conversation about Marshall's recently published biography of Washington, subscription to which has been blocked by Jefferson's party (Republican) because it supposedly contained criticism of his government. This conversation was called "private," and Hay threatened to use it in an impeachment effort against Marshall. This reminds me that the second judge in Henson's case was forced to recuse himself because he personally knew (Hemet is a small town.) the deputy sheriff who was on the prosecution's witness list.
"I began my defence by pointing out that three times in the west I had been tried for the same offences and three times found innocent. I spoke of the illegality of my arrest by the military. I spoke of Jefferson's political interest in the matter. I spoke of Wilkinson's chicanery. I think I made an impression not so much on Marshall as on the populace . . . .
For a time Jefferson counted on Dr. Bollman's 'confession' to convict me of the misdemeanour of planning a war against Span. Although Jefferson had given his word that Dr. Bollman's deposition would never leave his hand, he sent a copy of it to Hay, with a signed pardon. If Dr. Bollman allowed the deposition to be admitted in evidence, he could go free. Dr. Bollman refused the President's pardon on the excellent ground that since he had committed no crime he could not be pardoned. He also denounced the President as a dishonourable blackguard who had broken his word. Jefferson's response was swift. 'Convict Bollman,' he wrote Hay, 'for treason or misdemeanour.'"
(The similarities to the reign of Richard Nixon are also unmistakable here.) "As the case against me slowly collapsed, the furious President shifted his guns to the Constitution itself. Blamed everything on 'a judiciary independent of the nation.' Threatened to amend the Constitution. Judges ought to be removable, he trumpetted, at the pleasure of president and Congress."
Noting that Jefferson had not complied with the defence's request to see documents held by him, the army and navy regarding Burr, Burr then moved for a subpoena duces tecum to be served on the President. Marshall ruled that such a subpoena may indeed be served on a sitting president but that Jefferson may get off the hook by sending the required documents instead of appearing with them.
When Wilkinson finally appeared to testify, Swartwout, less cautious than Burr, insulted Wilkinson and challenged him to a duel. The commander of the army did not answer Swartwout's challenge, even after Swartwout had published a broadside proclaiming him to be a coward. This mirrors to some extent the less conservative actions of Henson's companions, whom he did not control, including that of Dave Rice, who took a global- positioning-system reading of the Scientologists' paramilitary compound, an action that was considered threatening (despite the common use of such systems in cars, telephones and backpacks) and blamed on Henson, including the accusation that he himself had taken the reading despite his lack of possession or knowledge of such a device. The behavior of Burr's companions was, as in Henson's case, the main case against him, since the treasonous act was said to have taken place on Blennerhassett Island on a date on which Burr proved he was elsewhere.
When Wilkinson was questioned about alterations to the letter he sent Jefferson as proof of Burr's treason, he could not explain his lies. Randolph as jury foreman demanded that Wilkinson himself be tried for treason, and only a slim majority of the grand jury decided to release him from that charge. Unfortunately, in Henson's case, the lies of Kenneth Hoden (manager of Golden Era Productions) on the stand could not be questioned or exposed due to the judge's rulings on in limine motions that eliminated Henson's defence, among other things.
"All that the prosecution could prove was that some thirty men associated with me stopped at [Blennerhassett's] island on their way down the Ohio. They were not armed. They committed no acts of violence (unlke the local militia). They threatened no one. . . ." This was the case with Henson, but, unlike Burr, he had neither a grand jury trial nor a friendly judge.
Although the government had relied on getting testimony from Burr's son-in-law Alston against him, at the last moment Alston found courage to ally himself with Burr against government pressure. Vidal claims that all the government witnesses had been rewarded or threatened by Jefferson to secure their testimony, and that all Burr's friends and associates had been either threatened or promised rewards if they would testify against him. Attempts were made to intimidate all of Henson's potential witnesses, and he himself was the target of intimidation. All prosecution witnesses were scientologists from Golden Era Productions except one who was brought in to impeach Henson's character, whose name had been brought into the case only because Henson was led to believe that he was someone else.
In the indictment, the "target" of Burr and his attorneys "was . . .
'constructive treason.' In its purest sense this phrase means that anyone who might have wished well a potential traitor was as guilty as the traitor himself . . . ." It is notable that, after Henson and Gerry Armstrong were found guilty of "treason" against $cientology, prosecution has been threatened against everyone who dares to picket or speak against $cientology on the grounds that they are part of the same conspiracy and thus bound by the same injunctions. This is a sort of "constructive treason" argument that is being used to chill public speech, including picketing, against $cientology. Their vendetta against Henson is not just against him alone but for the purpose of threatening arrest and conviction against anyone who speaks, writes, publishes or pickets against them (the "head on a pike" principle).
"Now on the defensive, George Hay not so delicately chose to threaten John Marshall, reminding him that for pre-judging a trial Justice Chase had been impeached. . ." Similar threats have been made against Henson's bankruptcy judge, and two judges stepped down before a judge was found to preside over Henson's trial in Hemet.
Marshall gave his opinion to the grand jury that, ". . . In order to prove treason, the government was obliged, first, to prove that an act of war had been levied against the United States and, second, to prove whether or not a given individual had been involved in that ct. The case, in other words had been presented backward. The government had arrested Aaron Burr for complicity in an act of war which had yet to be proved.. . . ."
The problem with the People's case against Henson is that they never conclusively proved either that a threat had been uttered or that Henson had uttered such a threat. The $cientology prosecution simply convinced what was probably a jury loaded with $cientology staff (since the Defence never saw the jury interrogatories and has never been able to find a single juror afterwards) that Henson was guilty of uttering threats. They also never proved that Henson had targeted a specific individual, a requirement under the California law under which he was convicted. Henson was in fact arrested for a crime of which a complaint wasn't made until several months after his arrest. A case presented backward indeed, and a case from which he can make no appeal!
Burr was found "'not proved to be guilty under this indictment by any evidence submitted to us.' I was relieved; I was outraged. I was not to be hanged; I was also not to be exonerated. They jury had broken with all custom by refusing to answer simply 'guilty' or 'not guilty.'"
Fortunately for him, Burr, like Arnie Lerma with Judge Brinkema, had the judge on his side, and one with whom the adversary (Jefferson) had to contend. Unfortunately for Henson, only justice and a small-town lawyer were on his side. He and justice lost.
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