The Verdict Comes In, The Struggle Continues by Steve Clemens. Feb. 6,2014
Winona Frac Sand Trial, Day 4 – Part 2
At 3:45 PM, the solemn jury reentered the courtroom and I knew immediately that we were found guilty because they did not look at the defendants nor did they smile. Juror #2 handed the 20 verdict forms to Judge Thompson who looked them over before reading them in alphabetical order. The jury finds defendant Michael Abdoo, guilty. Then 19 more names were read, one at a time with the word “guilty” as the choral refrain. I think all of us were a little shocked because we were certain that several defendants were not properly identified by the police or were not warned properly according to the testimony heard. I suspect even the Judge was somewhat surprised in one or two cases.
But ultimately, all of us did the action together; it is fitting that we are all treated alike.
The Judge asked the Prosecutor if he would give his recommendation for sentencing since some of the defendants had traveled great distances to be there and would prefer not to have to return for sentencing at a later date. Judge Thompson said he was sure some of the defendants probably had prior records but it was his preference to sentence us all alike if the Prosecutor didn’t object. He did not. The Prosecutor recommended “a stayed sentence with unsupervised probation for one year under the condition that they remain law-abiding and in good behavior, stay away from CD Corp properties and the Hemker facility on Old Goodview Road, and pay reasonable restitution.”
Defense Attorney McCluer turned around to huddle up with the defendants still in the courtroom and asked us what we thought. He was surprised (and pleased) that a fine was not tacked on to the request. We all agreed to the fairness of the first part but were all opposed to paying any restitution. McCluer told the Judge we were OK with the Prosecutor’s recommendation including the omission of a fine. The Prosecutor then said it was an oversight, not a deliberate omission.
Before passing sentence, the Judge asked each defendant if he/she wished to make a statement. There wasn’t enough time for me to capture each comment. Most defendants said they were morally opposed to paying restitution to companies profiting off of frac sand. “It would be morally unethical”, “it is morally abhorrent”, “it would be a moral hardship” were a few of the phrases. Matthew Byrnes indicated he’d rather be held in contempt – “put me in jail” before voluntarily paying it. Many Catholic Workers stressed they had little or no income but were willing to do service in educating the community in lieu of restitution.
I took the time to thank my co-defendants for making me an “honorary” Catholic Worker after the article in this morning’s Winona newspaper said I was a “Minneapolis Catholic Worker”. I told the judge I was grateful for being able to act together with these people.
John Heid said that the Judge had remarked at the beginning that this was going to be a new experience – trying more than 20 of us at a time. John said Gandhi talked about “experimenting with truth”. That’s what we did and it is likely we will be back before you again (and again). John continued, “I’m not promising to be good, but I am promising to try to follow my conscience.”
Diane Leutgeb Monson, one of the coordinators of the retreat and action chose not to testify today in order for the jury to get the case sooner. But she did make a brief statement before sentencing which included observing that this experience is part of the journey – now we have to carry the message out to the community. Dan Wilson said his actions were on behalf of all. “I did this for you [Judge Thompson] and for your kids and their kids.”
Our attorney said he felt so moved by John Heid’s statement that he’d like to make a comment as well. He spoke of an ancestor of his who was sentenced to death by Queen Victoria for his part in the Irish struggle against England. “If you grant us some leniency, we’ll try to do better next time.” McCluer smiled, knowing the reference was double-edged, referring to the defendants as well as his ancestor. He continued, “He was sentenced to death but was able to escape and eventually went to Mexico and fought with the Irish Battalion in the Mexican-American War.”
The Judge followed the recommendation of the unsupervised probation with conditions and added a $200 fine/restitution and the mandatory $85. court fees imposed by the state. He noted the many objections to restitution and said you can consider this a fine or restitution. You have 90 days to pay it. If you don’t, it will be turned over to a collection agency for collection and they’ll charge a recovery fee as well. McCluer later told us he could have made it a condition of our probation but chose instead to past it on to a court-collection firm if we don’t pay.
The entire experience - preparation, action, trial, sentence was joyful "experiment" in nonviolence. I’m glad I took part. An on-going “experiment with truth.”