Maine Jury Acquits Peace Activists For Senate Office Sit-In
A Penobscot County Superior Court jury deliberated for 2½ hours after a two-day trial.
The defendants, who live in communities from Wells to Bangor, were arrested along with six others on March 8, 2007, at a protest at U.S. Sen. Susan Collins' office in the Harlow Street building.
They said they were protesting President Bush's proposal to increase the number of U.S. combat troops in Iraq to support a military strategy known as the surge. Members of the group also were urging Collins to vote against continued funding for the war.
After the verdict was announced about 1:45 p.m., the defendants, their attorneys and their supporters celebrated on the steps of the courthouse in between interviews with reporters.
Jonathan Kreps, 57, of Appleton, Henry Braun, 77, of Wells, James Freeman, 59, of Verona, Dudley F. Hendrick, 66, of Deer Isle, Douglas Rawlings, 61, of Chesterville, and Robert Shetterly, 61, of Brooksville, chose to go to trial. The other six pleaded guilty and paid fines.
"To be honest, I'm a little incredulous," Freeman said after the verdict. "I thought there was a remote chance that we'd have a hung jury, but I didn't expect this. The fact that this was a not-guilty verdict says something about the way the wind is blowing in this state.
"People have had enough of this war, enough of corruption and enough of high oil prices," he said. "We can't continue to spend $12 billion a month on the war and not be affected at home."
Freeman, Hendrick and Shetterly represented themselves.
Attorney Philip Worden of Northeast Harbor represented Rawlings.
"The key to the verdict was the great defendants," said attorney Lynne Williams of Bar Harbor, who represented Kreps and Braun. "They were sincere, believable and honest. That, along with very careful jury selection, is why we have this verdict."
Williams said that Superior Court Justice William R. Anderson, who presided over the jury selection process but not the trial, allowed a defense-proposed question about potential jurors' attitudes toward civil disobedience. Justice Michaela Murphy presided over the trial.
Brendan Trainer, assistant district attorney for Penobscot County, prosecuted the case. He referred questions to District Attorney R. Christopher Almy.
"I think that the public in Maine is so disgusted with the war in Iraq that they demonstrated their disgust with this verdict," said Almy, a Democrat. "And, that they are upset with [Sen. Olympia] Snowe and Collins for getting us involved in this debacle."
State law, he said, does not allow the prosecution to appeal a not guilty verdict.
Almy, who praised Trainer's presentation of the case, said the verdict most likely would affect whether his office prosecutes protesters arrested in the Federal Building in the future.
"At this point," Almy said, "we're going to have to consider the precedent that this verdict sets and we may very well have to consider giving these cases to the U.S. attorney to prosecute because this state court case may preclude successful future prosecutions.
"Also, I would like to say that Snowe and Collins got us involved in this mismanaged war and it may be up to them to persuade the U.S. attorney to take on these cases," he concluded.
When informed of the verdict, Jen Burita, a spokeswoman for Collins, said Wednesday, "We are pleased that the matter has been resolved."
U.S. Attorney Paula Silsby, who is based in Portland, said she would have to research whether her office had jurisdiction to prosecute people arrested in the federal building in Bangor. Many years ago, she said, protesters arrested at the Federal Building in Portland were prosecuted in federal court.
A woman juror who refused to be identified talked to the defendants on the courthouse steps after the verdict. She said that the war really did not factor into the verdict.
The juror said that the state did not meet its burden of proof on the first element needed to prove them guilty of criminal trespass - whether the protesters were in the Federal Building knowing they were not licensed or privileged to be there.
"I testified that I felt we had an obligation to be there," Freeman said, when asked if he felt he had a right to be in the Federal Building after he had been told to leave.
He speculated that his acquittal and that of his co-defendants would increase the number of protests against the war.
The six others arrested during the protest pleaded guilty to criminal trespass between May 2007 and January 2008 and paid the following fines:
Patricia L. Wheeler, 62, Deer Isle, $200.
Nancy W. Hill, 54, Stonington, $400.
Judith Robbins, 59, Sedgwick, $400.
Peter Robbins, 59, Sedgwick, $200.
Diane Fitzgerald, 66, Blue Hill, $200.
Maureen R. Block, 53, Swanville, $200.
The fine for a first conviction is $200, the fine for a second is $400.
© 2008 The Bangor Daily News