30 years after Kent State
ANTI-WAR FUGITIVE SURRENDERS TO FACE VIETNAM-ERA SENTENCE
One of the few remaining fugitives from the era of resistance to the Vietnam War turned himself in to federal authorities in Phoenix on February 10. Howard Mechanic was compelled to reveal his true identity after routine press inquiries into his candidacy for City Council in suburban Scottsdale. He is serving a sentence of five years.
Mechanic was well known in Phoenix area civic and progressive circles as Gary Tredway, a successful natural health products businessman and apartment manager appreciated for his volunteer leadership and philanthropy. Gary Tredway's community activism included long involvement as board member and Convener of the Gentle Strength Food Cooperative in Tempe, foundational work for a "Clean Elections" Arizona ballot initiative, and publishing the Current, a local activist newsletter.
As an anti-war activist at Washington University in 1970, Howard was one of seven students enjoined in March of that year from future protests at the besieged University R.O.T.C. (military training) building. On April 30, 1970, President Nixon announced that U.S. forces had invaded Cambodia from Vietnam. On May 4, National Guard troops fired on unarmed anti-war protesters at Kent State University in Ohio. Four were killed.
In the days and weeks of protest that followed, two more students were killed by government bullets at Jackson State, and more than thirty R.O.T.C. buildings across the country burned. One of the first to go up in flames was at Washington University in St. Louis. Among thousands gathering at the fire in the earliest hours of May 5 was Howard Mechanic, defying the injunction in defense of his free speech rights.
Mechanic was later indicted and convicted of violating the restraining order, fined $500 and jailed for 4-1/2 months.
Then the feds took their turn. Mechanic was the first person (of two, ever) tried and convicted under one section of the 1968 Civil Obedience Act. The Act passed Congress in reaction to the tumultuous times, and part of it prohibited people from interfering with fire fighters or law enforcement "during the commission of a civil disorder," defined as disruption or damage caused by a group of three or more people.
A lone witness against Mechanic alleged he had thrown a large firecracker at firefighters battling the R.O.T.C. blaze. Mechanic denied the charge and the witness admitted under oath that he had not actually seen Mechanic throw anything; that the explosive may have come from several feet behind Mechanic. Whoever threw what, no one was injured during the demonstration.
Nonetheless, Mechanic was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. The federal appeals court acknowledged the witness was "highly partisan" against Mechanic, but the conviction was upheld, and in 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case on double jeopardy claims.
At the age of 24, Mechanic faced five years in a system he'd already had a bitter taste of, targeted by militaristic guards. His co-defendant in the federal case, and the only other person ever prosecuted under that section of the law, Larry Kogan, was tried before a different judge and sentenced to three months. Knowing he was falsely accused, unjustly convicted, and unfairly sentenced, and unwilling to be imprisoned again, Mechanic skipped bail and disappeared.
An English professor who had put up his home as collateral for Mechanic's $10,000 appeal bond was left in the lurch. Mechanic's parents and other faculty members helped Prof. Carter Revard avoid foreclosure.
Revard still has strong feelings. He told reporters shortly after Mechanic turned himself in, "...they wanted to give (Mechanic) five years in jail for throwing a cherry bomb, while they were giving Medals of Honor to people who were dropping cluster bombs and napalm on Vietnamese children. I thought that it was an outrage then, and I think now that it's an outrage." "I feel terribly sorry for him because I feel the United States government and its agents persecuted, punished and did great harm to the life of a man who was trying to do right."
After they finally got their man, federal prosecutors on March 1, 2000, obtained a grand jury indictment against Howard Mechanic for using an illegally obtained Social Security number to get an Arizona driver's license and U.S. passport in the name of Gary Tredway. They seek to add five years to his sentence.
On May 4, 2000, thirty years after the killings at Kent State, Mechanic applied for Presidential commutation of his original sentence. It has been learned that co-defendant Larry Kogan was eventually pardoned by President Reagan, adding to the hope of Mechanic's supporters that they can beat the usual odds against a Presidential pardon, and free Howard Mechanic from this unjust sentence.
Mechanic is asking for letters in support of his bid for commutation of sentence, addressed to the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Pardon Attorney, 500 First St. NW, Washington, DC 20530. Copies or original letters to President Clinton and your Congressional delegation asking for their support of the pardon are also needed. The Defense Committee would like to present the letters to the Office of Pardon Attorney in bulk, and ask that you send your original letter to them at the Defense Committee address, below.
The Howard Mechanic Legal Defense Fund also needs financial support for this effort. Gary Tredway's legacy of philanthropy has not left a large sum for Howard Mechanic's legal fees.
For more information, contact the Howard Mechanic Defense Committee, P.O. Box 27991, Tempe, AZ 85285; info@HowardMechanic.org or visit www.HowardMechanic.org for more information about Mechanic's case and an on-line petition to sign.
[Editors' note: We met "Gary" in 1982, when the woman he
was then married to was our childbirth education teacher. He has been a
supportive subscriber of the Nuclear Resister ever since.]