Was Protestors' Real Crime a Tropical Storm?
During the trial, Prosecutor Brown stayed tightly focused on the trespass itself, mostly avoiding motivation and context. But after the jury returned with a verdict and it was time for sentencing, Brown argued for a suspended sentence of 30-45 days, on the condition of no further protests and the completion of 100 hours of public service. He justified the difference between this request and the hundreds of similar cases that were not prosecuted by blaming the six women for taking law enforcement personnel away from post-Irene response.
As the Rutland Herald's Susan Smallheer reported it:
case was unusual because it was prosecuted, while hundreds of other, identical
cases have gone unprosecuted.
But after the women were convicted, and set for sentencing, Windham County Deputy State's Attorney Steve Brown said the women's timing -- and the fact that they pulled away needed resources from the police response to Tropical Storm Irene -- needed to be computed into their sentence".
Windham County prosecutors have, for the last 12 years or so, routinely declined to prosecute any protester cases, saying it was a misuse of limited court resources.
The evidence had shown that these women were well known to local authorities and that they required no special police handling. Brown did not establish that any personnel were actually needed elsewhere when they were arresting the Shut It Down Six, he did not establish how many personal were needed for the arrests, or whether the women could have been left chained to the fence until it was convenient for police to collect them.
Because he took no questions afterwards, prosecutor Brown could not be asked whether this case constituted selective prosecution. Associated Press reporter Dave Gram raised this issue with the prosecutor's office pre-trial, but got no explanation. Nor apparently did the judge inquire as to why these women were prosecuted when hundreds of other protestors similarly situated legally, had all had their charges dropped -- even some of these defendants on other occasions.
For their part, the Shut It Down Six rejected community service, arguing that trying to shut down Vermont Yankee was itself community service. At least some of them invited Judge Wesley to send them to jail. The Judge refused.
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During the trial, as Dusty Miller wrote later:
Paki Wieland asked Vernon police Chief Mary Beth Hebert if, after the many times she had been called to Vermont Yankee to arrest these aging activists, "do you see us as unrepentant recidivists or persistent women?"
Officer Hebert smiled warmly, answering in an unmistakably affectionate tone "you are persistent!"
As the women masterfully conducted their own defense, spectators in the court room heard from police officers - and even VY's head of security - that the protestors had been consistently respectful and non-violent. Here was another lesson in the patience and courage it takes to act from conscience.
Also during the trial, as the Brattleboro Reformer's Mike Faher reported, Brown had intervened on the women's behalf and "pointed out that it was allowable for the women to ask each other questions as cross-examination. [Judge] Wesley agreed and praised Brown's ethics, and the courtroom audience erupted in applause."
In addition to Crowe, Kehler, and Nestel, the other defendants were Nancy First, 82, and Paki Wieland, 68, both of Northampton, and Ellen Graves of West Springfield.
The Shut It Down Six have 30 days from the verdict to appeal.