Jury selection was held Monday for the trial of Kent Hovind and co-defendant Paul Hansen. Several people gathered outside the U.S. Courthouse in Pensacola, Fla., to voice their support.
Key issues for potential jurors to consider included their religious beliefs, their knowledge and opinion of Hovind's Dinosaur Adventure Land, whether or not they can believe police testimony, and if they had formed any opinions of Hovind by reading newspaper articles about him.
Chief U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers questioned approximately 10 potential jurors during individual voir dire.Roughly half of them said they couldn't deliver an objective verdict because of their strongly held opinions.
One woman said she is skeptical of police officers and judges because of an experience she had involving a car accident with a police officer. She said the officer got out of his car and told her the wreck wasn't her fault, but after his supervisor arrived on scene and she was taken to the emergency room, she was ticketed. In court, both officers said they never spoke to her, and the judge didn't question it any further, even after she told her side of the story, according to her.
Some did say they'd be able to look at the facts of the case and put their opinions aside.
One woman, who works with the wife, though not very closely, of Thomas Keith, Hovind's public defender, also has an uncle who had tax-related issues. However, she was certain she could remain objective.
Near the end, Judge Rodgers asked the prosecution and defense attorneys if they had any more questions for the potential jurors.
Keith, who hadn't asked any additional questions during the individual voir dire, asked Judge Rodgers if the entire group could be asked if they were physically able to sit for lengthy periods of time and if their hearing and eyesight was good.
Judge Rodgers was taken aback by Keith's question and explained she meant questions regarding the potential jurors prejudices.
The matter was considered because one man, who has a bad hip, had asked for a break earlier in the day, but that was already over two hours into jury selection. It was determined a break in the trial would take place around that time anyway.
Christopher Klotz, Hansen's attorney, asked Judge Rodgers if all the potential jurors could be asked if they were U.S. citizens and residents. It was clear Hansen urged Klotz to ask the question, most likely what he wanted to ask immediately after court reconvened from a break, when he requested to address the court, to which Judge Rodgers said not now. A court reporter handed Judge Rodgers a form, which she read aloud, that asked jurors under oath if they are U.S. citizens, and the matter was settled.
Hansen again talked with Klotz, and Judge Rodgers said the next question Klotz asks better come from him.
Hansen has filed numerous hand written motions challenging the jurisdiction of the court. He is clearly dissatisfied with the public defender's refusal to embrace his theories, which are sometimes referred to as Sovereign Citizen. Hansen has clashed with Judge Rodgers about his representation. Judge Rodgers has characterized the type of representation he is seeking as being "hybrid".
Hansen continually rocked in his chair and took his glasses on and off. Hovind was more stoic and appeared comfortable and content.
Judge Rodgers was polite and understanding with each person as she asked questions during individual voir dire.
Several Hovind supporters were demonstrating with signs in front of the federal courthouse, but a few were inside the courtroom.
Joshua Tyrone, who's lived in Pensacola on and off since 2000, said he just wants to get more people on the bandwagon for what's right, whether Democrat or Republican.
"I believe that our government and our country are both heading for something it won't be able to change, something very bad," he said. "And I believe if people don’t start standing up for what they believe in, then pretty soon we're not going to have a first amendment, they're going to come and take our second amendment, and pretty soon we're going to be in a soviet/dictatorship where we're just living under tyranny."
Tyrone mentioned that actor Wesley Snipes owed more money in taxes than Hovind, yet he served a much shorter sentence.
Snipes served three years in federal prison after being convicted in 2008 of willfully not filing tax returns from 1999-2001. In 2008, The New York Times reported that Snipes had to pay up to $17 million, which included back taxes, penalties and interest.
"There's several celebrities though, the same exact thing but usually more money that they've been caught evading," Tyrone said. "It's just corrupt."
Louis Charles Geshlider, director of the Tea Party in Washington County, Fla., said only one master can be served, even with a business.
"Your corporation is either owned by the state, or it's owned by Christ," he said. "It's that simple."
Geshlider said he's not here to pass judgement on businesses that find it advantageous to become an agent of the state.
"But when Christ is involved in your non-profit venture such as a church, now you got a problem because you cannot serve the state...and serve Christ at the same time; it doesn't work," he said.
Geshlider points to the eighth amendment, which partly says no cruel and unusual punishment inflicted, as to why he thinks enough is enough for Hovind.
"Isn't this a little harsh?" he said. "Al Sharpton is out running around with $4.5 million allegedly owed, nobody's even bothering him, and (Hovind's) already served 99 months in prison."
In November 2014, The New York Times reported that Sharpton had more than $4.5 million in state and federal tax liens against him and his businesses.
When asked what he knew about Hovind's original conviction Geshider responded.
"I knew that either whoever was advising him, or whatever structures he set up, kind of got him in the same trouble Irwin Schiff got in,"
Irwin Schiff wrote several books and frequently spoke about the entirely voluntary nature of the income tax system. He is currently incarcerated and will be nearly ninety when he is release in a few years. The letters from tax professionals that Kent Hovind has indicated that he relied on appear to contain arguments similar to those that Schiff promoted.
There was also one man who was around the courthouse for a time who wasn't there to show support. He went around recording all of the demonstrators without saying anything. His intent is unknown, but one of the demonstrators seemed to recognize him and said he was a demon. The man declined to comment.