Drone protest trial, day 2 – with a verdict

The jury was out for only 30 minutes – the shortest deliberation I’ve experienced in at least 7 other jury trials. When Judge William Price made clear before the noon break that he wouldn’t permit jury instructions which would allow jurors to consider our justification, it was almost certain to me that we would be convicted. That is why we had started out day 2 of our St. Patrick’s Day 7 Drone Protest trial with what is referred to as an “offer of proof”. Continue Reading

Doing time in Des Moines, part two

Judge William Price bragged about the new, “at least 3 star”, jail that Polk County, Iowa runs. He smiles and exchanges pleasantries with us and our lawyers as the deputies are collecting the paperwork to haul us off to his self-described plush accommodations. Obviously he has never entered as a “paying customer”! I’d love to see if he has the cojones to spend 2-3 days inside, incognito, before he sends anyone else to that jail. Same for the Prosecutor (although, in fairness, he only recommended a fine for our conviction on trespass) as well as all the COs (Corrections Officers) and staff at Polk County’s “finest”. Continue Reading

Going to jail as solidarity

I spent 20 hours on the boundary between discomfort and pain. I thought of Martin Luther King writing about redemptive suffering and offered my time in the noisy, cold, boring void of the Polk County Jail on behalf of my despondent and discouraged friends in Afghanistan. Continue Reading

Drone protest trial in Des Moines – Day 1

Judge Bill Price, Iowa District 5C, greeted the 7 defendants facing trial for Criminal Trespass at the Polk County Courthouse. Built in 1902, his regular courtroom was so small that he couldn’t fit in all the defendants or the lawyers – not to mention the 70 prospective jurors and any members of the public coming to support us. Judge Price huddled with our two pro-bono defense attorneys and the two prosecutors while the prospective jurors watched a movie about service as a juror. Next thing I saw was 30 of those jurors filing out of the courtroom and back to the jury pool office. It was discovered that in our type of misdemeanor charge with multiple defendants, we will each get only 2 strikes rather than the 4 we were expecting after a pre-trial discussion yesterday afternoon. With defense and prosecution each getting 14 strikes, and needing a jury of 6, with a reserve in case any jurors were struck for cause, it was decided that we would question 40 jurors rather than 70. Continue Reading

The President as Pharaoh: Drones reveal hardness of heart

As we approach the Biblical season of Passover and Easter, it is instructive to explore some of the implications of “exodus” for us today. Having read Rabbis’ Waskow and Berman’s excellent Freedom Journeys, calling us to re-enact the struggle for liberation from bondage every year, I took to thinking about our Commander-in-Chief in the light of the forces aligned against Moses and his oppressed people. Continue Reading

Day 3 of the frac sand trial: The whole truth?

When my name was called by Richmond McCluer, our defense attorney, I walked up before Judge Jeffrey Thompson and told his clerk I would “affirm” rather than “swear” the oath to ” … Tell the Truth, the Whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth, so help me God.” I affirmed – but was quickly reminded that in U.S. courts, that is virtually impossible if you want to fully inform a jury about your motives and intent. Continue Reading

Day 2 at the frac sand trial: The prosecution brings its case

“This case is ONLY about trespassing. Being on private property, being asked to leave, refusing to leave. That’s what this case is about, nothing more!” The Winona Prosecutor, Michael Flaherty kept his opening argument brief and moved quickly to his first witness, Dan Nisbit, owner of CD Corporation, a “bulk commodities company” which leases land from the City of Winona, MN in order to ship silica (frac) sand on barges down the Mississippi River. His operation can handle up to 120 truckloads of frac sand a day to fill two barges. When asked if he is aware of health risks associated with silica sand, he states, “I’ve seen some pamphlets”. He told the jury his employees do not wear any special respiratory equipment while work at his Port of Winona facility. He did say the protesters offered him donuts on the day of the arrest last April 29 and that we were “polite and respectful”. “They [the protesters] shut our operation down.” Continue Reading