Thursday, August 12, 1999

Defendant convicted of legal sham


Roten first found guilty under new law

BY SHEILA McLAUGHLIN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — Larry Roten didn't flinch Wednesday as a judge read the jury verdicts that convicted the 48-year-old common-law follower on a dozen charges of threatening public officials with paper.

        But when the jury left the courtroom, the Oregonia man unleashed a protest, calling te trial a “sham” and an “absolute, blatant, disregard” for his rights.

        He said he intends to file an appeal.

        After two days of witness testimony and slightly more than five hours of deliberation, the Warren County Common Pleas Courty jury convicted Mr. Roten on Wednesday of all charges against him in the state's first test of a 1996 law aimed at stopping paper terrorism by right-wing groups.

        Although law enforcement officials say the common-law movement that spurred the anti-sham law has dwindled to a handful of hard-core activists, they consider the conviction significant.

        “Although it appears that the need for it has somewhat waned ... it still does send a message to those who believe that they can create their own law if they don't like the laws that we have,” said Todd Boyer, a spokesman for the Ohio attorney general's office.

        Special Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier applauded Wednesday's verdict.

        “The defendant really preached anarchy throughout the trial. For jurors to return anything but a guilty verdict would be a violation of their oaths and a dangerous precedent,” he said.

        Mr. Roten was found guilty of five misdemeanor charges of using a sham legal process, five felony counts of intimidation and two felony counts of retaliation. Sentencing will be Sept. 10.

        Six charges of using a sham legal process to commit a felony were dismissed at the request of the prosecutor.

        In a case linked to an ongoing custody dispute over Mr. Roten's elderly father, Mr. Roten was accused of sending documents and paper threats to Warren County Prosecutor Tim Oliver demanding $5 million or his father's release from a nursing home. The county placed Ambrose Roten, 90, in the Lebanon Health Care Center after police found him wandering Ohio 63 twice in January 1998.

        Authorities also accused Mr. Roten of filing similar documents against Clerk of Courts James Spaeth and Paul Woodbury, who served as foreman on the grand jury that initially indicted Mr. Roten in January.

        Despite allegations by Mr. Roten's court-appointed attorney that a juror was sleeping during Tuesday's proceedings, Judge George Elliott declined to declare a mistrial. He said he watched the jury after the issue was brought to his attention and did not see anyone sleeping.

        During closing arguments Wednesday, Mr. Roten, who represented himself during the trial, urged the jury to ignore Ohio laws and follow the Bible.

        In a 40-minute speech that resembled a church sermon, Mr. Roten, clad in blue denim overalls and a stun belt, told jurors that county officials usurped their authority when they placed his father, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease, in the Lebanon Health Care Center.

        “We are living in communism. You people here this day have the opportunity to stop it or turn it around,” he said.

        A handful of Mr. Roten's friends and followers, who sat in the courtroom throughout the trial, said they were not surprised by the verdict, which they said was unfair.

       



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