WASHINGTON - September 22 - The federal government flexed it's muscles on this first day of testimony
by peace activists, charging two defendants with contempt of court, and
interpreting the charges in the indictment to make it easier for the
prosecution to attain a conviction.
Senior U.S. District Judge Hon. Thomas J. McAvoy charged Peter DeMott and
Teresa Grady with contempt of court for testifying about the fact that there
was a previous trial.
McAvoy previously informed the defendants they were forbidden from
testifying on a laundry list of topics including: the illegality of the Iraq
war, international law and its relevance to their actions, the mandates in
the Geneva Convention, the Doctrine of Necessity, facts or statistics about
the Iraq war, descriptions of the damages or deaths caused by war,
descriptions of what defendants had seen when they traveled to Iraq, and
more. They were also prohibited from testifying about their previous State
court trial, which ended in a mistrial, with nine of twelve jurors favoring
Following a round of questioning by U.S. Assistant Attorney Miroslav Lovric
that one observer called "McCarthy-like," DeMott was charged with an
additional count of contempt when he refused to name possible other
Finally, on a technical matter of tremendous significance concerning a
difference in wording in the Grand Jury indictment, versus the wording in
the code of law on which the indictment is based, McAvoy ruled in a way that
makes it much easier for the government to obtain a conviction.
"The Government has charged the defendants with crimes based on a rarely
used statute, so there isn't guiding case law telling us how the statute
should be applied," said Bill Quigley, acclaimed public interest lawyer
and law professor at Loyola University School of Law, who is acting as legal
advisor to the defendants. "But the implications of the judge's rulings
today should not be underestimated. The government has disregarded the
defendants' rights to due process and in effect, changed the language of
the indictment after trial has begun. Further, the government has taken
what would have been considered a State level misdemeanor offense that would
result in 6 months local jail time and literally crafted federal law to fit,
that, if convicted, will now result in 6 years incarceration in Federal
prison. The effect this will have on the public's right to dissent - a
cornerstone of our democracy - is absolutely chilling."
The indictment says that the defendants are charged with conspiracy, "for
the purpose of inducing by force, intimidation, AND threat, officers of the
United States to leave the place where their duties. are required to be
for the purpose of injuring officers of the United States.on account of
their lawful discharge of duties.AND for the purpose of injuring
officers.while engaged in the lawful discharge of their duties.AND for
the purpose of injuring the officers. so as to molest, interrupt, hinder,
AND impede them from the discharge of their duties."
In contrast, the actual statute, Title 18, United States Code, Section 372
uses the disjunctive OR in each of the above instances where AND is
Despite the fact that Lovric wrote and signed the indictment with the AND
language, Lovric argued that OR was intended. McAvoy agreed, and ruled that
the OR language would apply. The implications of this ruling strongly favor
the Government, which now must prove that only one of the four above
transgressions occurred, whereas with the conjunctive AND the government
would have had to prove that all had occurred.
Further, the actual statute indicates that the "use of force, intimidation
or threat" clause is to be considered as a component for each form of
transgression, whereas today McAvoy ruled that the "force, intimidation or
threat" clause only applied to the first transgression of inducing an
officer to leave the place where duties are performed. To prove the other
transgressions, McAvoy has ruled that no proof of force, intimidation or
threat is required. This interpretation also makes it easier for the
Government to attain conviction.
On St. Patrick's Day 2003, two days before the US military invasion of
Iraq began, four peace activists, all parents and members of the Ithaca
Catholic Worker movement, entered their local military recruiting station,
knelt, said a prayer for peace and then carefully poured a small amount of
their blood on recruiting center posters, walls and flag to symbolize the
violence of war and the sanctity of life.
The first federal conspiracy trial against war protesters since the Vietnam
war, resumes Thursday 9:30 am in the Binghamton Federal Courthouse Building.
To view indictment: http://www.stpatricksfour.org/documents/StPatsIndictment2005.pdf
To view Title 18 Unites States Code Section 372 see http://tinyurl.com/adolz