Catholic Priest, Other Protesters, Sentenced in Santa Fe

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Albuquerque Tribune

Catholic Priest, Other Protesters, Sentenced in Santa Fe

by
Joline Gutierrez Krueger

There was little peace, love and understanding as a federal judge castigated a nationally known activist and Roman Catholic priest for an Iraq war protest that blocked a Santa Fe elevator in 2006.0126 03

"I'm not interested in making a martyr out of you," U.S. District Judge Don Svet said Thursday in Albuquerque before sentencing the Rev. John Dear to 40 hours of community service and $510 in fines and fees, to be paid immediately.

Dear was the last of the group known as the Elevator Nine to be sentenced.

Six of the nine eventually went to trial on federal charges after they occupied the elevator of Sen. Pete Domenici's Santa Fe office for more than five hours. Two others took plea deals, and one was a minor whose charges were dropped.

All six were found guilty in September. The other five have been sentenced.

Dear's attorney, Penni Adrian, had asked the court for mercy, saying Dear had a "lifelong commitment to peace and human decency." His action that day was "but a legal misstep," she said.

Adrian also said she received word Wednesday that Dear had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and the Gandhi Peace Award.

But Dear asked for no mercy, using his time before the court to condemn the Iraq war.

"This war is unjust, morally sinful and just downright impractical," he said.

Dear added that he had contemplated the words of Mohandas Gandhi, who Dear said advocated to reject a court's sanctions if the cause was just.

"I want to take my case to a higher court, to a higher judge ---------------- the God of peace," Dear said before uttering a prayer.

But Svet would have none of it, calling Dear a "renegade priest," "a coward" and "no Gandhi."

"Mr. Dear, you frankly are a phony," Svet said. "You preach nonviolence but you are the same man who took a hammer and a can of paint against a U.S. aircraft."

Those in the crowded courtroom, filled mostly with members of Dear's Pax Christi peace group, gasped and shook their heads at the judge's comments.

Five of Dear's co-defendants were sentenced in October to suspended prison time, fines and community service.

All five are appealing their sentences, Adrian said.

Dear, who received the highest fine and most hours of community service, will not appeal, Adrian said.

"He has other things to do," she said.

The Elevator Nine had been found guilty of failure to comply with official signs and directions, a petty misdemeanor, for remaining in the elevator of the Joseph M. Montoya Federal Building in Santa Fe on Sept. 26, 2006, after being denied access en masse to Domenici's third-floor office. They had wanted to present him with a "Declaration of Peace" to end the war.

Svet ruled earlier that while it was their right to seek redress from their lawmaker, they could not break the law while doing so, and they had by "unreasonably" obstructing the elevator.

The nine took turns reciting the names while they waited in the elevator, which remained open at the lobby level after the power to it was shut off.

Protesters Jan Lustig and Bruno Keller accepted Alford pleas and were ordered to pay $25 in court processing fees.

An Alford plea asserts innocence but acknowledges that sufficient evidence exists for a conviction. It is still seen as a guilty plea under the law.

Charges against protester Jordan McKittrick, then 15, were dropped because he is a minor.

Other defendants were Philip Balcombe, Sansi Coonan, Michella Marusa, Martin "Bud" Ryan and Eleanore Vouselas.

© 2008 Albuquerque Tribune

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