(From the Nuclear Resister #164, December 5, 2011. For a free copy of the current issue, email your postal address to email@example.com.)
After “many a sleepless night”, a town court judge in DeWitt, New York convicted 31 of the Hancock 38 Drone Resisters, and sent four to jail. Judge David Gideon’s verdict and sentencing came in a five-hour night court hearing December 1, after deliberating on their four-day trial held a month earlier in November.
Early in his decision, read from the bench, Gideon stated, “Many issues were raised that were not heretofore contemplated by this Court on a personal level; for which this Court personally acknowledges a new and different understanding, making the decision now before the Court that much more difficult.” After much consideration, he concluded that the defendants were guilty of both “obstructing vehicular or pedestrian traffic” and “refusing to comply with a lawful order of the police to disperse.”
The 38 came to the Air National Guard base at Hancock Field near Syracuse last April to protest the remote piloting from there of armed MQ-9 Reaper drones over Afghanistan. Authorities had already closed and blocked the base entrance, so they held a die-in leading to their arrest.
Before trial, charges against Jerry Berrigan, 92, were adjourned pending dismissal, and six other defendants had entered plea agreements.
Their trial was notable for the testimony of former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark on the criminality of U.S. drone warfare under international law, and the legitimacy and necessity of the nonviolent resistance to these crimes. Clark also testified at the Las Vegas trial of the Creech 14 drone resisters last year. As in Nevada, the judge in New York was evidently captivated by the testimony of Clark and the defendants, but rejected their legal arguments in his verdict.
The defendants each addressed the court and were sentenced individually. Danny Burns and Judy Bello were each sentenced to four days in jail plus a $250 fine and $125 surcharge. Brian Terrell was sentenced to ten days plus the same fine and surcharge, but with credit for time served, was expected out in five. Ellen Grady told the court that in light of the unjust verdict, she should be sent to jail for the max, which she was, for fifteen days. Some defendants appearing after Grady also asked for the max, but instead were fined $250, assessed a $125 surcharge, and given a one-year conditional discharge. Fourteen were also ordered to perform 20 or 25 hours community service.
Verdict and sentencing for five defendants unable to attend the December 1 hearing has been set for February 29, 2012.