Tuesday August 14, 2012

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- A New Hampshire man was sentenced to a little less than three months behind bars for secretly recording conversations with Manchester police and school officials.

The recordings made by 30-year-old Adam Mueller in October were posted on a blog affiliated with the website copblock.org, which claims to police the police.

Mueller, who represented himself at his trial, was convicted Monday on three counts of wiretapping less than an hour after arguing that the law shouldn’t apply to secretly recording public officials.

"I know I didn’t cause them any harm -- physical or otherwise," Mueller told jurors, stressing he called them while they were at their public jobs. He told them he was seeking "jury nullification" of the wiretapping law -- which prohibits recording of conversations without all parties’ consent.

Assistant County Attorney Michael Valentine told jurors Mueller wanted to make up his own law and have them apply it.

"The defendant doesn’t want to follow the law and he’s essentially asking you to join him in not following the law," Valentine said.

Police say the recordings were made in conjunction with an October incident in which a student videotaped a school security officer handcuffing another student who became disorderly during a stolen purse dispute. Mueller posted tape recordings of conversations with Manchester High School West receptionist Denise Michael and Principal Mary Ellen McGorry and Police Capt. Jonathan Hopkins about the video on his blog.

McGorry testified Monday that she had learned about the website just days before the videotaping. She said some students were talking about it and about having met with the "copblock" group’s members. She said the student who videotaped the incident said he had cut class because he "thought something might go down." She also testified that same student showed up at school wearing a T-shirt with the inscription, "I don’t talk to cops. I videotape them."

Mueller was in custody before his trial started, nearing the end of a 60-day sentence for resisting arrest after chalking messages on the police department’s walls 14 months ago. When asked by Hillsborough Superior Court Judge Kenneth Brown if he wanted to be delay sentencing, Mueller replied, "I’m already in jail. We might as well get it over with."

Mueller faced a maximum of 21 years in prison on all three counts. Valentine sought a one-year sentence, saying Mueller’s intent in committing the crimes was to disrupt government and public officials. He said a one-year sentence would serve as deterrence to Mueller and his supporters who packed the courtroom.

"I don’t regret what I did," Mueller told Brown. "I don’t think jails were built for people who make phone calls or chalk buildings." He said locking him up would not deter him from being an activist.

Brown gave him a three-month sentence on one of the convictions, saying, "I don’t accept the state’s reasoning," but he did not elaborate. He also granted Mueller’s request to have the sentence run concurrent with his resisting arrest sentence, effectively shaving five days off the new sentence. Brown gave him suspended 1- to 3-year sentences on the other two convictions to deter future crimes.

After court, about a dozen of Mueller’s supporters heckled Valentine as he walked back to his office, with one calling him "sadistic" and others spewing expletives at him. They had applauded Mueller after the verdicts were returned and stood as he reappeared in the courtroom for sentencing.

State Rep. Kevin Warden, R-Goffstown, attended the court proceedings and said afterward that he thought prosecuting Mueller was "a travesty and a total waste of taxpayer dollars."

Warden -- a member of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee -- said the committee has debated whether the law is too ambiguous and needs to be overhauled with an eye toward increasing public officials’ accountability. He said the case should spur the Legislature to act.