Trial begins for man accused of jury tampering after passing out juror rights pamphlets

Posted at 7:29 PM, May 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-31 19:29:00-04

BIG RAPIDS, Mich. -- The trial began Wednesday for a man initially charged with a five-year felony for handing out juror rights pamphlets on a sidewalk outside the Mecosta County courthouse. It's a case FOX 17's Dana Chicklas broke in December 2015 that made national headlines.

The case has unique First Amendment implications that will give perspective on the extent of the right to free speech.

In Dec. 2015, Keith Wood spoke exclusively on camera with FOX 17 when he said, "I truly believe in my heart of hearts I didn't do anything wrong, I didn't break the law."

On Nov. 24, 2015 Wood, the father of seven and a former pastor, was arrested after passing out about 50 Fully Informed Jury Association fliers on the sidewalk in front of the Mecosta County Courthouse on the day of another trial. The fliers discuss juror rights including those that are debated and often not read by judges in jury instructions: including a juror's right to vote their conscience, or jury nullification.

Wood was initially charged with a five-year felony for obstructing justice, a one-year misdemeanor for attempting to influence a jury and his bond was set at $150,000. His felony charge was dropped last March and he is now on trial for alleged jury tampering.

Wednesday attorneys began their opening arguments:

"This is not a case about the Yoder trial, about the Amish community, about the wetlands violations, or about the Department of Environmental Quality or anything of the facts surrounding this case," said Nathan Hull, Mecosta County assistant Prosecutor.

"This is a trial about whether the defendant Mr. Wood broke the law by attempting to influence the decisions of jurors in a specific case."

The day of his arrest, Nov. 24, 2015, an Amish man Andy Yoder was scheduled to be on trial for allegedly illegally draining wetlands in violation of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Wood is accused of specifically tampering with at least two prospective jurors who were being sat that day for Yoder's trial.

Wednesday the prosecutor showed video footage of Yoder's pre-trial conference: it was earlier November 2015 and Wood was one of the many who packed the courtroom. It's important to note, according to testimony Wednesday, the jury pool for Yoder's case was dismissed Nov. 24, 2015: the case ended that day with a plea deal and the prospective jurors never went to trial.

Wood's Defense Attorney David Kallman argued to the jury that the fliers Wood passed out had no mention of any case, and only discussed jury rights.

"It’s not enough to hand out a general information pamphlet with somebody’s perspective, right or wrong, on what juror rights are," said Kallman.

"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."

Several prospective jurors, who received jury rights pamphlets from Wood on the day of question, testified.

"[Wood] handed me the pamphlet and said, 'Do you know what your rights [are] as a juror?'" said Theresa DeVries.

Then DNR Det. Janet Erlandson, who was coming to possibly testify in the Yoder trial that day in November 2015, testified Wednesday that she took a pamphlet from Wood. She said Wood was blocking the sidewalk and asked him to move, then later ended up assisting with his arrest.

"I didn't know who was a juror and who was not a juror," Det. Erlandson recalled walking into the Mecosta County courthouse that day.

Mecosta County District Judge Peter Jaklevic, former long-time Mecosta County prosecutor, testified Wednesday. He said he was "very concerned" when he saw some of his jury pool carrying the pamphlets into the courtroom. The magistrate testified earlier that he believes 12 to 20 people had the pamphlets.

"My concerns had to do with extra-judicial information, information being brought from outside the courtroom, " said Judge Jaklevic.

"It appeared to me to be an effort to bring information to the jury's attention that wasn't from the court."

Jaklevic says he stepped into the hallway with Mecosta County Prosecutor Brian Thiede when Det. Erlandson and a deputy brought Wood into the courthouse. Mecosta County Deputy Jeff Roberts testified he "asked Wood to come inside because the Judge wanted to talk with him," then threatened to call a city cop if Wood did not come inside. Wood initially declined saying he knows his rights, Roberts said.

"[Wood] was asked if he was the one passing out the pamphlets, [Wood] said yes, and I was told to arrest him for jury tampering," said Roberts.

Several witnesses testified that Thiede ordered Wood's arrest that day.

Wood's trial will resume Thursday morning. Stay with FOX 17 for updates.