Jury: ‘Sovereign’ citizens guilty
Published 12:05 am Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Man refused to leave foreclosed farm, filed case here
A Covington County jury on Tuesday found two men guilty of eight counts of offering a false instrument for recording against a public servant.
Travis Lee Lambert of Andalusia and William Peter Witwicki of Enterprise filed suit against Coffee County Sheriff Dave Sutton, Circuit Judge Thomas Head, Circuit Clerk Mickey Counts and Circuit Judge Shannon Clark. Although their actions and language mirror those used in the sovereign citizen movement (see info box), each said he is not a member of the movement.
Their story began when Witwicki refused to leave his foreclosed property in Coffee County. He was given a year to leave, but violated the order. Later, he produced documents with sovereign citizen leanings that were intended to sue the public officials for $89.2 million in silver coins.
The men were indicted by a Covington County grand jury, after the attorney general’s office presented the case here.
Circuit Judge Lex Short heard the case. Sutton, Head, Counts and Clark testified on Monday; and FBI Intelligence Analyst Paul Hodos testified on Tuesday., serving as the prosecution’s expert witness on sovereign citizens.
Lambert and Witwicki defended themselves, while the State of Alabama Attorney General’s Office handled the prosecution.
Throughout the short trial, the state argued that Lambert and Witwicki filed the documents in Covington County with the purpose of defrauding the public officials.
Hodos, the intelligence analyst, was on the stand for more than an hour Tuesday morning, giving his expert opinion on documents that Lambert and Witwicki had filed indicated they were part of the citizens group.
A big part of the trial centered around the defendants’ claim they are not 14th amendment citizens, instead citizens of the United States and not the state.
The Fourteenth Amendment states that all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
Assistant Attorney General Ternisha Miles questioned Hodos on the document related to the 14th amendment issue.
“What’s this meant to convey?” Miles said.
“It’s saying that the author, the undersigned is a sovereign citizen, not a 14th amendment citizen,” Hodos said.
Hodos went on to explain that the reason why the document was signed in lower case letters. In the sovereign citizen movement, participants argue that when a name is spelled in all capital letters on a birth certificate, it does not represent a flesh-and-blood person, but a corporation. The lowercase spelling, they argue, represents the person.
The prosecution also displayed documents that were created to set up fines and fees that are associated with the sovereign citizens.
A true bill, or affidavit of obligation, was also presented that was addressed to a court clerk demanding the return of Witwicki’s property.
Hodos testified that the documents were written to establish a local government, attached to the sheriff.
On cross examination, Lambert tried to establish that Hodos wasn’t a credible witness, all the while maintaining that he (Lambert) isn’t a sovereign citizen.
Lambert asked Hodos if he saw any threats toward those involved from the paperwork, to which Hodos said “no.”
Witwicki ended his examination by telling jurors it wasn’t a “frivolous” act to try and get his property back.
Hodos ended his testimony saying that he believes Witwicki has some affiliation with sovereign citizens movement.
Closing arguments from the defense and prosecution came after lunch.
Assistant Attorney General John Hensley reminded the jury why they were in court.
“We are here for one reason, and that is that these two defendants filed this fraudulent document with the Covington County probate court,” Hensley said. “These two men don’t believe in the laws and don’t abide by them.”
Hensley then discussed the law, what it says and what each count of the indictments indicates.
Near the end of his argument, Hensley produced each of the documents in which Lambert had a hand, dating back to 2009.
“Travis Lee Lambert has been doing this a long time,” Hensley said. “He knows exactly what he was doing. He’s been in the sovereign citizens movement for a long time.”
Lambert gave his closing argument and maintained that he didn’t know what he was signing.
“I did not do it with the intention of any crime,” he said. “It’s possible I could have, but I didn’t do it on purpose.”
Lambert claimed that he’s not a sovereign citizen.
Witwicki laid the case out once again from his point of view, saying that he wasn’t given a promissory note on his mortgage.
“I sued 15 people and two years later, four of them decided they were offended,” Witwicki said. “I was working to get my farm back.”
Witwicki also reminded the jury that none of the witnesses, which didn’t include himself or Lambert, stated they knew what the defendants’ intent was.
Miles called the sovereign citizens’ ideology “stupid.”
“As they say, the birds of a feather flock together,” Miles said. “They’re stupid if they think we’re going to stand by and make a mockery of our public system.
“Don’t buy it,” she said.
Miles reiterated what Hodos said on the stand that the defendants turned a negative truth and spun it around to make some sense.
The jury deliberated approximately 30 minutes before returning a guilty
Sentencing for Lambert and Witwicki is scheduled for May 12 at 9 a.m. Witwicki was remanded to the county jail after the trial, while Lambert was set free on bond.