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Mich. minister jailed for warning that judge faced God's wrath

By The Associated Press

DETROIT — The American Civil Liberties Union is taking up the case of a southwestern Michigan minister who was sent to prison for warning that a judge could be tortured by God.

The ACLU said it asked the state appeals court yesterday to release the Rev. Edward Pinkney on bail while he appeals a probation violation. Lawyers claim his free-speech rights were trampled in Berrien County.

In 2007, Pinkney, 60, was convicted of paying people to vote in a Benton Harbor election.

Months later, he wrote an article in a Chicago newspaper, People’s Tribune, saying the judge who handled his case, Alfred Butzbaugh, could be punished by God with curses, fever and “extreme burning” unless he changed his ways.

In June 2008, another Berrien County judge, Dennis Wiley, sent Pinkney to prison for three to 10 years after finding the threat against Butzbaugh and his family violated the minister’s probation.

“Those are words that would ... put the fear of God into anybody, as a threat that this could happen to them if they do not do what Mr. Pinkney wants him to do, whatever that might be,” Wiley said, according to a transcript.

By identifying himself in the article as “reverend,” Pinkney attempted to show that he has a “direct line to the Lord, and that he is knowledgeable that the Lord is going to do these things,” Wiley said.

The judge also noted that Pinkney called Butzbaugh dumb, racist and corrupt.

“In a democracy, the government cannot simply throw citizens in prison for criticizing public officials, even if the criticism is offensive and even if the public official is a judge,” said Michael Steinberg, legal director for the ACLU of Michigan, in a news release.

“To our knowledge, this case marks the first time in modern history that a preacher has been imprisoned for predicting what God might do,” he said.

A message seeking comment was left with the Berrien County prosecutor’s office, which handled the probation case.

Pinkney is in a state prison in the Upper Peninsula, roughly 600 miles from his home. Despite being incarcerated, he received 3,500 votes as the Green Party candidate for Congress in Michigan’s 6th District. Incumbent Republican Fred Upton won the race.

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