Shocking verdict, small miracle
I cannot begin to describe the shock of Judge Jokl's “Not Guilty “ verdict. I sat at the defense table with my mouth hanging open while the courtroom erupted in cheers and applause.
I remember thinking, “I must look a fool with my chin hanging lower than my navel.” I was dumbfounded. Speechless.
First I want to express my deep appreciation and admiration to my fellow dissidents of faith:
-- Fr. Bill Frankel-Streit of the Little Flower Catholic Worker in Virginia;
-- Ellen Grady of the Catholic Worker in Ithaca;
-- Carmen Trotta of the Joseph House Catholic Worker in New York, NY;
-- Fr. Bill Pickard of Scranton, Pa. Fr. Bill is works in a prison ministry.
There were a couple of things that made his verdict incredible. First was that Jokl said that the verdict was going to be shocking because he wanted to find us guilty. I said to myself, “That's rather a bold thing for a judge to say in open court. I thought the task of a judge, who was in this case also the jury, was not to go into the case with a desire to find a defendant “guilty” or “not guilty” but to decide the facts of the case and render a decision based on those facts."
Subtle distinction of wording but a chasm of difference in meaning. Having been on a federal grand jury almost 14 years ago (now they wouldn't let me near a federal court house, let alone on the jury) and having been part of jury selection for one of my trials, believe me, I understand the difference.
Jokl said that the prosecution did not prove the charge of “disorderly conduct." Part of our defense was that we were not on public property (a prerequisite for the charge) but rather on private property. Hancock base commander Earl Evans got up on the stand and testified that the property line for the base goes to the middle of East Malloy Road in front of the base. I made that specific point in my testimony and in my closing argument: that we were standing in the driveway to the base and we were in fact on private property. In his verdict Jokl acknowledged this fact by saying if we had been charged with trespass the verdict would have been different and I'd be behind bars.
A little aside here, when Evans got up on the stand –- uniform and all, I thought to myself, “So that's what he looks like, now I know who to stay away from." Recall that he has an order of protection against me (and the other four defendants), even though we have never met, much less any of us having ever threatened him. My great regret of the trial is not questioning him about the Orders of Protection. This will be one of those life long regrets.
I had actually prayed about using the technical public versus private property defense. What is the point of getting arrested for a higher principle if you get off on a technicality? The Gandhian approach, which is what we try to follow, is that we admit what we did and claim a higher authority for why is it not illegal.
The important part is the trial itself and the public presentation in court of the justifications for the action -- even though the chance of getting off based on these justifications may be virtually nil. I came to the conclusion that times are now very different from when Gandhi was doing his ministry. We now live is such a police state (witness the NSA spying on all of us and the US government declaring that any citizen who opposes drones to be a low level terrorist) it now means something to beat them at their own game. A hollow victory, to be sure, and a commentary on how dark the times really are. A second helping of McCarthy-ism for the country.
My sincere thanks also to local attorney Kathy Manley who was my attorney advisor for the trial. It was her insight to use this as a defense strategy.
The second part of the verdict was the small miracle, a contradiction in terms if there ever was one. The DA, not happy with the verdict as you can well imagine, challenged it. Jokl agreed to hear him with the caveat that he was not going to change his decision. DA McNamara cited article six under the law. The judge looked at him and said, “I did not find mens rea."
"Mens rea," Latin for "guilty mind." This speaks to our intentions during our witness. The miracle is that Jokl found our intent to be pure. My four co-defendants and I convinced the judge that our intent was to uphold, not break, the law. Our intent was to stop crime, not to commit one.
This acquittal comes from a judge whose initial intent was to convict all of us and throw all of us in jail. I will leave it to my readers to chose the size of the miracle here.
Both of the defense points we used had been previously argued by other dissidents in DeWitt Town Court but without success. This acquittal marks a major breakthrough by those who have sought to strengthen international law, and stop U.S. war crimes, including extra-judicial murder by the illegal drones and perhaps prevent using them here at home to spy on, and potentially kill, American citizens on their own soil, and in their own homes.
Part of me is disappointed at not being sentenced to jail time. Part of me was looking forward to that time to reflect and pray. Out in the parking lot, as we were leaving the the court house, I said, “I have $300 for my jail ministry! What am I going to do with this money?”
Luckily, there is a local jail ministry and the funds that were so generously given to me will go to the people I would have given them to – just not by me personally.
I reflected a long time about going to jail and was prepared and very much at peace with that prospect. My insight was that the good news of the Gospel is either just what Christ said it was, a road map of how to walk more humanly with each other, or it's a bag of bupkis. I will continue to put all of my spiritual eggs in the basket with Christ.