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Peace activists acquitted of conspiracy for spilling own blood at recruiting center; Still face jail

Jennifer Van Bergen

Four Catholic peace activists who protested the invasion of Iraq have been acquitted of felony conspiracy charges and face only misdemeanors, RAW STORY has learned.

Known collectively as the St. Patrick Four, the four defendants: Peter Demott, Clare Grady, Daniel Burns and Teresa Grady faced six years in prison each for entering an army recruitment center in Lansing, N.Y. and pouring vials of their own blood on themselves, the floors and walls in March 2003.

They were arrested and tried by a jury in state court. A hung jury returned nine to three for acquittal.

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Instead of retrying the group in state court or dropping the charges, the District Attorney, George Dentes, asked the Department of Justice to bring federal charges against them.

"Why that was done is at this moment is a mystery," declared Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who gave an empassioned speech last week before the federal courthouse in Binghamton, New York.

Hinchey declared that the Four were engaged in protests that were "entirely in keeping with some of the best traditions of American society from the very beginning."

The federal trial began last Monday in Binghamton, NY. All defendants represented themselves, but in a surprise move, Clare Grady waived her right to represent herself before her closing statement and asked attorney Bill Quigley to present closing arguments for her.

Witnesses present at the trial told RAW STORY that Quigley's statement, in which he compared the defendants to the people who built this country and signed the Declaration of Independence, "was inspiring and moving."

One of the defendants, Daniel Burns, said U.S attorney Miroslav Lovric used his closing statement to compare the defendants to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Lovric did not return calls for comment or repeated requests a transcript of his closing statement.

The verdict

The jury began deliberations on Friday.

The verdict was returned earlier this morning. The jury convicted the four of three misdemeanor charges, one of which will be dismissed, leaving two misdemeanors, according to one of the defendants. The sentence they now face will be six months to a year. Sentencing will take place in January 2006.

The verdict breaks down as follows:

-Count 2, Injured and damaged government property: GUILTY
-Count 3, Entered military station for unlawful purpose: GUILTY
-Count 4, Entered military station after having been previously removed: GUILTY (Clare, Peter and Daniel only).

Some feel that the charges were meant to suppress criticism of the government and the invasion of Iraq. It is the second controversial trial in the Northern District of New York, the first being the Muslim humanitarian doctor, Rafil Dhafir, who was convicted in February of violating sanctions against Iraq.

The St. Patrick's Four trial is, according to defense attorney Bill Quigley, "the first felony conspiracy trial for nonviolent civil disobedience since Dr. Spock."

"This is a big victory," said a relieved Burns. "The verdict means that the jury decided the war in Iraq is illegal."

Had the Four been allowed to introduce international law, Burns maintained the jury would have acquitted on all charges, because under international law damaged property is not a crime when it is done to prevent a greater harm. Burns said the Four want to thank the jury.

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Following is Quigley's closing statement for defendant Clare Grady as provided. RAW STORY made repeated requests to U.S attorney Miroslav Lovric for a transcript of any of his statements to the jury but the office repeatedly refused to provide either a statement or comment.

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Ten keys to freedom; Ten ways to find these people innocent

Being a juror is tough. I was on regular jury duty for a month and grand jury for another month -- spent most of the time waiting around doing nothing -- really boring. But now finally comes the fun part. You are in charge!

The judge is going to give you about 50 pages of instructions about how you are to decide this case. Some of it is very vague and hard to understand; in fact, the judge and the lawyers have been arguing about much of it for days.

I want to be clear that you do not have to agree with these four folks in order to find them not guilty. You can think even think they are nuts and still find them not guilty.

Individual freedom is at stake. What you do in this case will send out waves throughout the entire community -- maybe even the entire country. So I know you will be a good citizen, and whether you like these folks and their beliefs or think they are peaceniks and do not like them, I know you will be very very careful with individual freedom.

You certainly have a gut feeling whether you are going to want to vote these folks guilty or not guilty right now. For those of you who are leaning towards not guilty, here are the top 10 keys to unlock this case and give these people back their freedom.

These are 10 keys why you should find these folks innocent. Any one will work as a key for their freedom but I am giving you 10 so you can take your pick.

One: Start with “the presumption of innocence” and “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

They start out innocent. Fundamental part of our system of justice: ¬ until you are sure “beyond a reasonable doubt” that they are guilty, you have to find them not guilty.

If you are not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that every single element of every single crime has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, then you must vote them not guilty for those crimes.

If you are not sure beyond a reasonable doubt that they are guilty of every single element of every single crime, then you must vote them not guilty.

Two: There was no criminal intent.

The judge is going to tell you that the good faith of the defendants is a defense to these charges:

The Judge will say:

“If you find that the defendant did not act with criminal intent, but instead acted in the good faith belief that he (or she) was doing nothing wrong, then that is a defense to the charge in this case…” and “The burden of establishing a lack of good faith and criminal intent rests on the prosecution... which must prove it beyond a resonable doubt.”

What the heck does all this about criminal intent mean?

These folks all have jobs, all have kids, they are obviously sincere and passionate about their beliefs.

Any doubt that they are totally committed to nonviolence or would lie about it? No way. Look at the priests and others who came up here and testified about their character compassionate, caring, integrity, truthful, honest, loved, honored, ….

You know I am from New Orleans. I want to tell you two stories that will illustrate criminal intent.

When the electricity went off and the phones went down and the water started rising, my wife and I were still in New Orleans. She is a nurse and we were helping in one of the hospitals.

During the bad times, some people broke into stores and took big screen TVs. We call them looters because they had criminal intent.

Also during the storm, all communications went down because of electrical problems and cell phone towers also went down. The police could not communicate with the mayor and the mayor with the governor and them all with the FEMA etc. So the chief of police and several of his officers broke into an Office Depot and took out servers for computers, fax machines, cords, etc.

From the outside you might say these are both the same types of acts, but they are not. One of them was larceny and one was not. One has criminal intent and the other does not.

One of those acts was taken for the common good. One of these was trying to help people. It is important whether the equipment the police took actually worked or not? No, it is their intent that matters.

So, reason number two is that the defendants did not have CRIMINAL INTENT. And the prosecutor, who has the burden of proof clearly has not proved a lack of good faith and the presence of criminal intent by these people beyond a reasonable doubt.

The judge will tell you - If you have reasonable doubt about whether their intent was criminal or not, if you think they might have been in good faith, you must vote them not guilty.

Three: Take a careful look at all the 50 pages of instructions.

You will find many, many ways to find them all innocent if you look carefully at ALL the charging documents:

You must look very carefully at the indictment of these people. It will be in the 50 pages. Look at it very, very carefully.

Careful reading of the charges will show you many, many places where the prosecutor has not proven every element beyond a reasonable doubt.

Look carefully at the overt acts.

In the first paragraph, the judge tells you that no one part of his instructions are more important than any other. If you look very carefully, there are things in there that will make you vote to set these people free.

Four: The power of one juror.

It only takes one juror to stop these people from being convicted.

Remember when the judge was asking you questions about becoming a juror, he asked you if you were able to make up your own mind and not be swayed by the crowd. To hang tough with your beliefs if you sincerely believe you are right. Listen to everyoneelse and deliberate but vote your own conscience.

Your decision has to be unanimous. You should discuss and deliberate as the judge tells you, but you will also hear about the importance of following your conscience. The judge will tell you that you are not to “do violence to your own individual judgment.” So hang tough!

Five: No force intimidation or threat.

Force intimidation or threat -- two of the counts of conspiracy demand that you find these folks acted with “force intimidation or threat.”

The evidence shows they said prayers before they went in; said the rosary while they were still in; no way at all for force intimidation or threat. You must vote not guilty on that.

Even Sergeant Montgomery said “they are friendly people.”

There is no evidence, certainly not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, that these folks used force intimidation or threat against anyone at any time.

Six: Common sense & unanswered questions.

Look at prosecutor’s case for the unanswered questions and use your common sense.

The judge is going to tell you “you are permitted to draw from facts that you find to have been proven such reasonable inferences as seem justified in light of your experience, reason and common sense.”

Why would the prosecutor bring up things that happened 20+ years ago if they thought they had a strong case?

Mr. Lovric is just doing his job, but think about the government he represents.

Why do you think the government is assigning FBI agents to a case like this?

Why is the government still prosecuting this case almost three years after it happened?

Why did the government make a federal case out of a mess that could be cleaned up with ammonia and a mop?

Use your common sense when you answer these questions.

Seven: Entry for unlawful purpose.

First of all, is there any doubt in your mind that these folks went into the recruiting center in order to try to save lives and to try to stop the war in Iraq? You know what the war has caused, was trying to stop it an unlawful purpose?

Apart from the Iraq War, remember the law officers said they unlocked the door and opened it to let the Grady sisters back in? Why would they unlock the door and let them in if they were not allowed in? Or coming for an unlawful purpose? Or if the officers were fearful?

Eight: Conspiracy charge: there are pages and pages of instructions about the elements of the charge of conspiracy.

But look closely and carefully at a couple of things and you will see that the conspiracy charge is really much weaker than it looks like.

Overt act number 5: the government says that these four folks “caused damage to property owned by the United States and by an officer of the United States.”

If you look at overt act five slowly and carefully you must ask: has the government proven beyond a reasonable doubt that number one: there was damage at all (was the floor damaged or was a mess made?)

Number two: was property damaged that was owned by the US and an officer of the United States? Was there proof of this ownership beyond a reasonable doubt? Was Sgt. Montgomery injured by these folks? You saw his demeanor in court. He said these were friendly people. Was his property injured? No evidence at all that Sgt Montgomery’s property was injured. None ¬nothing was proven that was injured that belonged to Sgt. Montgomery. Much less beyond a reasonable doubt.

But then, the prosecutor will say: they do not have to prove all the overt acts -- they do not have to prove all the elements in the indictment.

Was Sgt Montgomery interfered with in his official duties? He said he was late for shopping.

Officer Massey testified that recruiters are trained how to deal with “peaceniks” in recruiting school, and that most of their work takes place outside.

Why is the government making a federal case out of this and still prosecuting these folks years afterwards?

Nine: Injuring and damaging government property.

Is there proof beyond a reasonable doubt whose property was damaged? Is damaged the same as making a mess?

Did the people here do this for an unlawful purpose, or is there evidence that they did this for a lawful purpose?

Ten: Conscience.

The court is going to advise you to honor and use and follow your conscience.

You know what is going on here. It is no secret.

Everyone knows what is going on here. I ask you to use your common sense and your conscience.

The prosecutor says this is a simple case -- I think freedom loving people call can agree with him. This is a simple case of government overkill; this is a simple case of the abuse of government power; this is a simple case of the government trying to take a simple case of non-violent protest and make a “federal case” out of it.

The government is calling these four people arrogant and unlawful and dangerous.

These four people could have stayed home and watched shock and awe on TV. They could have said this is somebody else’s problem. They had jobs and kids and school and church, just like the rest of us, but they were peacemakers. What does the bible say? Blessed are the peacemakers.

But they took a risk. A risk to try to do something dramatic to try to stop the war in Iraq.

The government is calling these four people arrogant and unlawful and dangerous.

This is the same government which has forced us to accept the Patriot Act.

Who else have the people in charge called arrogant and unlawful and dangerous?

How about the people who built this country and refused to pay taxes to King George? I seem to remember a famous tea party protest?

How about the people who signed the Declaration of Independence?

Women who voted when it was prohibited. What do you think they called them?

What about the people who sat in at lunch counters or refused to move in busses?

Many of the most famous people in the history of our country were called arrogant and unlawful and dangerous people to some, because they acted for justice when everyone did not approve, much less the prosecutors and the government.

The judge is going to tell you to follow your conscience. You know what is going on.

Use any or all of these ten keys that this case gives you.

Follow your conscience, as these people have, and set these people free!

Originally published on Monday September 26, 2005.

 


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