COLUMBUS, Ga. - Peace activists Dorothy and Gwen Hennessey each will serve six months in prison for their non-violent protest last November at the U.S. Army Infantry Center in Fort Benning, Ga.
On Wednesday, Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth, of Columbus' U.S. District Court, attempted to sentence Dorothy Hennessey, a sister of the Order of St. Francis in Dubuque, to six month's house arrest at the Dubuque motherhouse where she resides, but she refused.
At 88, Hennessey is the oldest of 26 people on trial this week for protesting the presence of the School of the Americas at the Army base.
"I appreciate and I understand," the sprightly Franciscan told Faircloth, as he explained the conditions of a house arrest to her, "but I'd rather not be singled out. If you wouldn't mind, I would just as soon have the same (sentence) as the others."
Honoring her wishes, Faircloth gave her the maximum prison time prescribed by law, and some seven hours later, handed down the same sentence to her sister, Gwen, 68, who also is a member of the Order of St. Francis in Dubuque.
The sentencing of the so-called SOA 26 took nearly 11 hours, ending just before 8 p.m. EST.
Gwen Hennessey and other protesters expressed hope while their trials took place Tuesday that Faircloth would give them at most three months in prison, but after a lengthy opening explanation of his legal responsibilities Wednesday morning, he proceeded to sentence most of them to the maximum imprisonment.
He also imposed fines ranging from $150 to $3,000, but did not fine 13 of the protesters, including the Hennesseys. The maximum fine allowable by law is $5,000.
Eight of the women sentenced to prison, including the Hennesseys, told Faircloth they want to be able to serve their sentences at a minimum-security facility for women in Pekin, Ill. Faircloth said he would make that recommendation.
The 24 protesters who were given prison sentences were required to post $250 bonds, except for three men who chose to surrender immediately to federal marshals. The bonds are repayable when they report to serve their sentences. They were told to expect to receive their notices to report for imprisonment in six to eight weeks.
If that timeline holds true, it will provide Gwen Hennessey enough time to join in the June 23 celebration of her 50th year as a Franciscan. As with another woman who asked for a stipulation that she not be required to report until after her mother's 100th birthday, Faircloth told Hennessey he was hopeful she would still be free for her jubilee celebration, but he would not stipulate it.
As he pronounced the accused guilty one by one, Faircloth went over facts of their lives that they had presented to him during their trials Tuesday, then offered them an opportunity to make unlimited comments before he passed sentence. A number of them thanked Faircloth for his considerate manner and allowing them time to express their opposition to the School of the Americas, recently renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
The only breaks in court decorum came the three times one of the accused surrendered on site and was led out of the court by a federal marshal. On those occasions, those protesters remaining behind and their supporters in the courtroom stood silently and extended their hands in blessing over their departing friend.
During the trial, the protesters spoke passionately and often of their opposition to the School of the Americas, and the institute that has replaced it. All took great pains to let Faircloth know their conviction that the school serves as a training ground for Latin American militarists who use their schooling to terrorize and murder civilians in their own counties.
The American government maintains the school promotes democratic values and principles and spreads goodwill between the U.S. and Latin America.
When it came time to sentence the 26 for re-entering Fort Benning to protest the school's presence after previously being barred from the place, Faircloth told them he understood, "You have come into court to continue this demonstration."
"We also have a duty to promote respect for the law," Faircloth said, explaining his view, "and it's my duty to enforce it."
By the time court was finally adjourned for the day, there were reports from Fort Benning that nine people were being held there for taking part in early evening protests against the School of the Americas. Leaders of SOA Watch, the group responsible for organizing protests against the school, said they expected more protest activity at Fort Benning before the night was over.
Copyright 2001 Telegraph Herald