Govt moves to keep Barrett Brown case secret as sentencing looms
On the eve of a court hearing more than two years in the making, federal attorneys are asking a Texas judge to keep details about their case against journalist Barrett Brown secret as they seek an eight-and-a-half year sentence.
Brown, a 33-year-old journalist and hacktivist, was arrested in September 2012 and subsequently charged with more than a dozen counts ranging from computer crime to threatening a federal agent – the likes of which left him at one point facing the possibility of 100 years behind bars. A plea deal entered last April let him off the hook for all but three charges, however, and Judge Sam A. Lindsay is now slated to announce his sentencing next Tuesday.
Federal prosecutors are reportedly asking the court to give Brown, a published author who has long been connected to the hacktivist collective Anonymous, the maximum sentence of 8.5 years. Defense attorneys, on the other hand, hope that Lindsay will say next week that their client can walk out of a Dallas, Texas courthouse a free man, following two years and three months in jail preparing for a trial that was taken off the table when the plea agreement was signed almost eight months earlier.
— Free Barrett Brown (@FreeBarrett_) December 12, 2014
Attorneys for Brown have filed a pre-sentencing memorandum with the court that contains the defense’s arguments for time served. Because that filing challenges the government’s own pre-hearing recommendations entered under seal, however, now neither party’s proposal concerning the fate of Brown can legally be made public.
“On Thursday, the defense filed a motion to unseal the sentencing memorandum and attendant exhibits in support of the public’s right of access. Incredibly, the government is opposing the release of the sentencing memo,” reads a statement released that evening by Free Barrett Brown, a support group advocating for a lenient sentence.
After more than two years of trying to raise awareness of Brown’s plight, supporters say the latest maneuver from the government is only the most recent in a long series of actions that kept the case largely secret.
Prosecutors waited more than two weeks after arresting Brown in Sept. 2012 before publicly announcing their charges against him. By January 2013, they had unsealed a total of four separate indictments against him, including one that sought to criminalize the act of sharing a link over the internet. Then, one year into pre-trial confinement, Judge Lindsay approved a request from prosecutors gagging Brown and his attorneys from discussing the case with the media, an order that’s since been lifted.
Journalist Barrett Brown is being sentenced next week, and the DOJ doesn't want people to know what's at stake. http://t.co/4YUD6HfaZH
— Freedom of the Press (@FreedomofPress) December 12, 2014
The bulk of the government’s claims against Brown made during the last two-plus years have been filed under seal and, as a result, few details if any have emerged concerning their case. Although the prosecution at one point had charged Brown with crimes carrying a maximum sentence of 105 years in prison, those claims have never been – nor will they be – argued publicly in court. In fact, what few details have surfaced about their argument have only been revealed through responses filed by the defense, not under seal, including one in which they countered the government’s claim that Brown “secretly plotted the overthrow of the government” with the hacktivist collective Anonymous.
“I am not and never have been the spokesman for Anonymous, nor its ‘public face’ or, worse, ‘self-proclaimed’ ‘face’ or ‘spokesperson’ or ‘leader,’” Brown wrote from prison two years ago. According to the paperwork filed by his attorneys in response to the government’s sealed argument, however, prosecutors have tried to tie Brown to the hacktivist group, yet couldn't make the connection when it came to filing charges.
Because it never ends, the government is opposing public release of the sentencing memo filed by Barrett Brown http://t.co/CfhFraIYr1
— Kenneth Lipp (@kennethlipp) December 12, 2014
“[T]he government alleges no meaningful nexus between an association with Anonymous and any form of violent conduct,” the defense argued previously. “Nor is Mr. Brown charged as a ‘member’ of ‘Anonymous.’”
According to a statement made by the Free Barrett Brown group this week, “It seems clear that the government doesn’t want journalists to attend the upcoming hearing with an understanding of what issues are at stake, and they don’t want further attention to a case that has already proven to be an embarrassment.”
Judge Lindsay has given prosecutors until Friday evening to file a response with regards to the defense's request that pre-sentencing files be unsealed.