Yosemite judge's noose leads to tossed verdict in California

A federal magistrate judge who dispenses justice in Yosemite National Park's tiny, picturesque courthouse received an unusual rebuff Tuesday from one of his big-city bosses.

U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger in Fresno tossed out a guilty verdict handed down in fall 2007 by William M. Wunderlich.

The reason: A hangman's noose that was on display in Wunderlich's chambers.

"A prominently displayed hangman's noose has no place in a federal magistrate judge's judicial chambers..." Wanger wrote. "It is a judge's obligation to be a guardian of liberty and to always strive to assure the appearance of impartiality."

Wanger's ruling references a profile of the judge and the Yosemite courthouse that had been published in August 2007 in The Fresno Bee and included a photo of Wunderlich with the noose. A short time later, the San Jose Mercury News published a similar feature story with similar photos.

In fall of 2007, Wunderlich convicted Sonora resident Lorenzo Baca of trespassing on a cultural resource and doing business in the park without a permit after a short bench trial. Baca was sentenced to a year's probation and 198 hours of community service.

Baca, who is part Mescalero Apache and part Pueblo Indian, had asked Wunderlich to recuse himself after photos were published of the judge with the hangman's noose.

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