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UPDATE: Jurors begin deliberating in political blackmail trial for former Sooner Tea Party leader

“It really scared me,” state Sen. Cliff Branan said of threatening email from Sooner Tea Party leader Al Gerhart.
by Nolan Clay Modified: May 7, 2014 at 12:19 pm •  Published: May 7, 2014
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Sen. Cliff Branan waits Tuesday at the Oklahoma County courthouse before testifying in the trial of Sooner Tea Party leader Al Gerhart. PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN
  Jim Beckel - 
THE OKLAHOMAN
Sen. Cliff Branan waits Tuesday at the Oklahoma County courthouse before testifying in the trial of Sooner Tea Party leader Al Gerhart. PHOTO BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN Jim Beckel - THE OKLAHOMAN

Update: Jurors left the courtroom shortly before noon Wednesday to begin deliberations in the trial of Sooner Tea Party leader Al Gerhart.

A state senator told an Oklahoma County jury Tuesday the hairs went up on the back of his neck last year when he read a threatening email from Sooner Tea Party leader Al Gerhart.

“I know evil exists,” Sen. Cliff Branan testified at Gerhart’s blackmail trial. “It really scared me.”

Gerhart, an Oklahoma City carpenter, faces two felonies because of the email — blackmail and violating the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act.

“You cannot blackmail under the guise of free speech and political advocacy,” prosecutor Robert McClatchie told jurors in an opening statement Tuesday.

Lead defense attorney Kevin Adams countered the email was constitutionally protected freedom of speech.

“He’s been doing this for years and so has many others,” the defense attorney said.

Jurors will begin deliberating Wednesday.

Four witnesses testified for the prosecution Tuesday and two witnesses testified for the defense.

Defense attorneys rested their case Wednesday morning, deciding not to call any further witnesses. Gerhart did not testify.

In his testimony Tuesday, Branan told the jury he was particularly upset Gerhart threatened to dig into his family and that Gerhart promised “there will be no end to it.”

He said he is married with two teenage children who live at home. He said he has an elderly mother and in-laws who live nearby. He called Gerhart a bully for coming after his family.

“Somebody who would come after somebody’s family has something different in their heart,” he said.

He said he told his son and daughter not to play in the front yard for a while and had Nichols Hills police alerted in hopes police would patrol by his house more often.

He started to explain how the email made him think of the former U.S. representative who was shot in the head in Arizona. The judge did not let him finish after a defense attorney objected.

Gerhart is accused of sending the email to compel the senator to have a bill dealing with a United Nations plan heard and approved in his committee.

Branan, R-Oklahoma City, is chairman of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee.

“He definitely was wanting me to do something I did not want to do,” Branan said.

The state House of Representatives already had passed the bill. Branan said the bill was a solution to a problem that did not exist. He said he already had refused to let four similar Senate bills be heard in the committee.

Branan has been a senator since November 2002. He is currently running for a seat on the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

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by Nolan Clay
Sr. Reporter
Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,...
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