Sept. 27, 2005 – After seven hours of deliberation, a jury found four Upstate New York anti-war activists not guilty on federal conspiracy charges for pouring their own blood inside a military recruitment station more than two years ago, but convicted them of other, lesser charges.
- Civil Disobedience Against War Gets Day in Federal Court (Sep 21, 2005)
"I call it a defeat for the government to try and put down dissent," defendant Daniel Burns told The NewStandard. "As far as a victory [for us], weâ€™ll have to wait and see, but it certainly hurt [the prosecution]."
After leaving the courthouse today, defendant Peter DeMott said citizens should be able to demand that the US government heed international law. "The real crime, as we've always stated, is that our government conspired against the American people and lied us into an illegal and immoral war," he said in a press statement.
In United States v DeMott, Grady, Burns, and Grady, the defendants were accused of conspiring to force, intimidate and threaten federal officers when they entered the lobby of the Lansing town Army and Marine recruitment center on March 17, 2003 and splashed their own blood on recruitment materials, cardboard cutouts of soldiers, and the American flag. The defendants, dubbed the "St. Patrick's Day Four" after the date of their protest, argued that they had been morally driven to speak out to the recruiters, recruits and the public about the consequences of war.
The jury cleared all four of the defendants on the conspiracy charges, which carried the harshest punishments.
The jury cleared all four of the defendants on the conspiracy charges, which carried the harshest punishments: up to $250,000 fines and six years in prison for each activist. The jury handed down guilty verdicts on two lesser crimes: damage to property and trespassing.
The defendants had already gone to trial in a state court in April 2004 for criminal mischief charges resulting from the same action. But the judge in that case declared a mistrial after jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict, and prosecutors referred the case to the US Attorneyâ€™s office in Binghamton.
Bill Quigley, professor of law at Loyola University and legal advisor to the defendants said the acquittal is a major setback to Bush Administration efforts to criminalize dissent. "The decision to acquit on the conspiracy charge â€“ a felony â€“ is a huge victory, given the narrow parameters within which the four could present their defense," said Quigley in a statement.
The defendants and their attorneys believe that the jury might have acquitted them on the lesser charges as well, if they had been allowed to hear a wider scope of testimony about the motivations behind the demonstration, carried out just a few days before the US-led "shock and awe" bombing that launched the war on Iraq.
Northern District Court Judge Thomas C. McAvoy blocked testimony and witnesses that would have addressed international law, the illegality of the Iraq war, and details about the defendantsâ€™ trips to Iraq with humanitarian organizations.
The defendants, who represented themselves at trial, were not permitted to talk to the jury about such canons of international law as the Nuremberg Principles or the UN Charter, or even the US Constitution.
"Anytime we got even close to talking about human beings in a very real, full way we were stopped," co-defendant Clare Grady told TNS. "We had to be vigilant every step of the way to try to insert that [aspect] into the conversation."
The defendants, who represented themselves at trial, were not permitted to talk to the jury about such canons of international law as the Nuremberg Principles or the UN Charter, or even the US Constitution. "The jury made a wise choice with what they had," said Teresa Grady, Clareâ€™s sister and co-defendant, in a statement. "It's unfortunate, however, that they were denied the full truth."
Advisory counsel Peter Orville said the verdict shows that the jury did not buy into the governmentâ€™s case. "The prosecution may have upset them in the final closing arguments," Orville told The NewStandard shortly after the verdict was delivered.
Miroslav Lovric, the federal prosecutor, in his rebuttal to the defendantsâ€™ closing statements, had compared the activists to the Aryan Nation, the Ku Klux Klan, 9-11 terrorists, womenâ€™s health clinic bombers and Timothy McVeigh, according to the defendants.
"It was unbelievable," said Burns, "but I knew it was helping us."
During the first two days of testimony, Judge McAvoy ruled three of the defendants in contempt of court for refusing to answer questions about who assisted them in drawing their blood, and for telling the jury about the previous state trial. The judge could decide contempt penalties during sentencing, scheduled to take place in January. They face up to one year in prison and $100,000 in fines on each of the three counts of conviction, according to Glen Suddaby, US Attorney for the Northern District of New York. The defendants, who remain free until sentencing, say an appeal would be costly and is unlikely.