James King

James King

After a little more than an hour of deliberating Friday, a 12-person jury found a man guilty of threatening a Bozeman judge.

The verdict came on the fourth day of the trial for 45-year-old James King, who they found guilty of felony threats and other improper influence in official and political matters.

The threats King was found guilty of were directed toward Bozeman Municipal Court Judge Karl Seel, who King delivered a letter to at the judge’s home in March.

The letter, Gallatin County Deputy Attorney Bjorn Boyer argued during trial, was an “escalation” of issues King had with Seel since he was first charged of a misdemeanor crime. And the letter threatened a citizen’s arrest of Seel, Boyer said.

King was convicted in 2014 of misdemeanor disorderly conduct. Seel, who oversaw the case, fined King $235 plus court fees after a jury found King guilty of the crime.

King appealed to the Gallatin County District Court and then eventually to the Montana Supreme Court, both of which denied King’s appeal.

During trial, Boyer said following those court losses, King became obsessed with Seel. In conversations with an FBI informant, King threatened to tase, attack and shoot Seel. And days after Seel ordered that King pay his remaining fees, King went to Seel’s house and slipped a letter under the door.

Boyer pointed to the line in the letter where King wrote that if Seel or any other judge issues a warrant for his arrest, that Seel could “anticipate that courtesy to be reciprocated, with or without law enforcement participation.”

And throughout the trial, Boyer told jurors, King made “every excuse under the sun” for his actions, including claiming he was anxious, depressed and involuntarily drugged, among other things.

“Clearly, that entire letter was meant to be a threat,” Boyer said Friday during his closing arguments.

King, however, claimed that the letter was not a threat, but rather a way to hold Seel accountable.

“What started all this was a duty that was expected to be performed,” King said.

King argued that he was innocent of the disorderly conduct charge and that Seel didn’t allow a key witness to testify on his behalf and that Seel never ruled on King’s motion seeking to dismiss the charge.

“This is something that could have been solved a long time ago,” he told jurors.

King continued to say that the letter was not a threat. “What I asked Judge Seel to do is his required duty,” King said.

And while he made “objectionable” comments about Seel in conversations with the informant, King again said he never made any direct threats toward the judge.

During this week’s trial, the state called seven witnesses and King called 12, including Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert, Sheriff Brian Gootkin and State Sen. Jedediah Hinkle, R-Bozeman.

A sentencing hearing has not yet been set. Butte Silver Bow District Court Judge Brad Newman, who has overseen the case, will set a date once a pre-sentence investigation report is completed.

If convicted, King faces a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Whitney Bermes can be reached at wbermes@dailychronicle.com or 582-2648. Follow her on Twitter at @wabermes.

Whitney Bermes covers cops and courts for the Chronicle.

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