Vermont Yankee Has a Checkered Safety Record
Vermont Yankee is located on the Connecticut River in southeast Vermont, close to both the New Hampshire and Massachusetts borders. There has been regional grassroots resistance to the plant since before it opened in 1972. That resistance has increased significantly in recent years as Vermont's governor, attorney general, and legislature have all joined in the effort to close the plant. Vermont Yankee's safety record has been uneven and deteriorating, including releases of radioactive tritium that has reached the Connecticut River.
Even Vermont law enforcement, particularly the Windham County State's Attorney (county prosecutor) whose jurisdiction includes Vermont Yankee, has taken a soft approach to protestors at the site -- arresting hundreds of people in recent years, often including these women, but prosecuting none -- until this case.
When the six grandmothers set out from Massachusetts on August 30, fifteen months ago, they were aware that Tropical Storm Irene had passed though New England and that it hadn't had much impact where they lived. In retrospect, one of them, Mary Kehler, 64, of Colrain, said that they would have re-scheduled their long-planned protest if they had realized how hard parts of Vermont had been hit by Irene.
Not knowing, they proceeded with their plan to block Vermont Yankee's main gate with non-violent civil disobedience, chaining themselves to the gate and shutting it down till they were arrested, while causing only minor disruption to the plant's operation. This was not the first time any of them had been arrested at Vermont Yankee. They have demonstrated there several times since, most recently on October 17, when police arrested 12, including four of the defendants.
The Shut It Down Six include a professor, social worker, mediator, and psychologist, and each woman told her story in her own way as well as in coordination with others. Given great latitude by the judge, the women's testimony drew frequent objections from the state, some of which were upheld, some not. Deputy state's attorney Steven Brown prosecuted the charges on behalf of the State of Vermont and kept his presentation narrowly focused on the facts, which were undisputed.
Judge Bars Use of Necessity Defense
While Judge Wesley denied the women the right to argue a necessity defense that they had not formally asked for, he allowed them to testify expansively, between objections, so that the jury of four men and eight women ended up hearing testimony that partly supported a necessity defense without actually clarifying it directly. In essence the necessity defense involves the admission of a crime, but argues that the crime was necessary to avoid a greater crime or a greater harm.