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Appeals court overturns felony blackmail conviction of Oklahoma tea party co-founder


OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has overturned the felony blackmail conviction for Sooner Tea Party co-founder Al Gerhart, saying that an email he sent to a state lawmaker was protected speech under the First Amendment.

In a 3-2 ruling Wednesday, the court also reversed a $1,000 fine that a jury ordered Gerhart to pay after he was convicted of sending an email to a former state senator who said he felt threatened by its tone.

Gerhart was charged in 2013 after prosecutors said the email was intended to intimidate former state Sen. Cliff Branan. Gerhart acknowledged sending the email to Branan but claimed the email was protected political speech under the Constitution.

The appeals court agreed, ruling that Gerhart's email was protected speech.

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