There were reams of motions, well-researched arguments, hours of testimony and a fair amount of debate about truth, facts and word definitions. But the jury’s brief deliberations cast a light on the most obvious of answers — you can’t expect to break into a nuclear Navy base and get away with it.
The federal district court jury convicted on all counts each of the seven anti-nuclear activists who broke into Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in April 2018.
Elizabeth McAlister, Clare Grady, Martha Hennessy, Carmen Trotta, Patrick O’Neill, Mark Colville and Father Stephen Kelly all await sentencing on charges of conspiracy, destruction of property on a Naval installation, depredation of government property and misdemeanor trespassing. They face a maximum of 20 years and six months in prison if given the maximum on each count and if those counts are to be served consecutively, though that’s unlikely.
The defense, still banned from making at least five different arguments, nevertheless continued to push as far into that ban as allowed before an objection by prosecutors or an attempt by U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood to rein in the rhetoric of the defendants and their counsel. Stephanie Amiotte, attorney for Hennessy, talked about the concept of intent in her closing argument. For instance, Count 3 — depredation — includes the phrase “willfully and maliciously.” Amiotte essentially went into an argument based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or the free exercise clause of the 1st Amendment, or both, before Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Gilluly objected.
“It was her beliefs that motivated her to act,” Amiotte said of Hennessy.
Wood ruled before the trial began that religious conviction wasn’t an acceptable legal defense against the accusations lodged.
Gilluly, in his closing rebuttal, said the trial was occurring because of what the seven defendants did, not why they did it. The government accused them — and the defendants, to a person admitted to — breaking into the secured facility under cover of night, damaging property and vandalizing various structures.
The defendants, all members of the Catholic Worker movement, provided alternate definitions for these actions, including transformation and symbolic denuclearization. Gilluly countered that certain words have certain meanings under the law and they are not up for debate. Indeed, included in the court’s charge to the jury was a list of several words and their only applicable definitions for use in deciding the verdicts.
After the jury went to deliberate, the air remained pregnant with anticipation. Supporters of the defendants who crowded the courtroom — and a secondary room with closed-circuit access — maintained hope for the possibility of a hung jury. Emotional release appeared to come in drips and then all at once, as the jury asked two questions of the court, one that was roughly an hour into their deliberations and another around 25 minutes later. At 4:11 p.m. — around two hours after the jury retired — Wood announced it had a verdict.
The defendants and their counsel listened stoically through the reading of each of the verdicts against each of the defendants, a roughly 20-minute process. Kelly will remain in jail as he refuses supervised release, but the other six defendants will remain out on bond pending sentencing.
By the time it was all over, and O’Neill off-handedly asking if they would get sentenced by Christmas — something unknown at the moment — supporters gathered in the hallways outside the courtroom, singing their faith.