From Jay O’Hara – Climate Disobedience Action Fund
After four and a half hours of deliberation, the Skagit County jury returned to the courtroom yesterday with a split verdict: valve turner Ken Ward is guilty of burglary in the 2nd degree, but the jury hung on the question of sabotage. Ken will be sentenced June 22nd. This is not, however, the end of the story.
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After the verdict Ken was unbowed: “I relish the opportunity to return to Mount Vernon and retry the case with a full necessity defense when we win on appeal.” It was clear, from talking with jurors following the verdict, that members of the jury were looking for a legal way to find Ken not guilty. There is, of course, an appropriate defense that could allow that: a necessity defense. Ken and his legal team are preparing to appeal Judge Rickert’s denial of the necessity defense.
We need your help to make that happen.
This trial, and the valve turners cases together, are a bold attempt to build a robust movement of climate dissidents who put their bodies and their normal lives on the line to create the change we need. These trials, rather than being an obscure legal argument, are an opportunity to open the floodgates on a nonviolent movement of climate disobedience.
Ken remarked from the stand Tuesday how he had seen climate politics change: “What [was] clearly a matter of geophysical reality was becoming a matter of partisan debate.” The valve turners action, and their arguments in court, are an attempt to put morality back at the center of this debate.
Across the country, with the US withdrawal from Paris, it is clear that a new strategy is needed on climate: one the lifts up the humanity of the crisis upon us, call citizens to their highest ideals, draws upon the tradition of dissent in this country, and empowers people to reclaim their agency in this time of fossil fuel and corporate dominance of our government and institutions. In short: a strategy that goes beyond politics.
With Leonard Higgins’ trial on July 18th and Michael Foster and Sam Jessup’s on October 2nd, Let’s move that vision forward together. Please donate what you can today.
Thank you so much for your support over the past eight months.
for the tar sands valve turners.
From the Seattle Weekly
Split Decision: Valve-Turner and Climate Activist Ken Ward Convicted On One Count
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – From Climate Defense Project
Mount Vernon, WA — Following controversial court rulings restricting his right to present a defense, climate activist Ken Ward received a split verdict today in a trial in Skagit County, Washington. Mr. Ward was found guilty of burglary, a Class B felony, while the jury failed to reach a verdict on a felony count of sabotage. The charges stemmed from an October 2016 protest in which Mr. Ward and four other activists temporarily blocked the flow of tar sands oil from Canada into the United States, calling on the federal government to take action to stave off catastrophic climate change. The prosecution’s failure to convict Mr. Ward of all charges came after a first trial earlier this year that resulted in a hung jury on both charges. Together, the results represent a backlash against prosecutorial overreach and a victory for climate activists who advocate the use of civil disobedience to address the climate crisis.
Mr. Ward’s sentence will be determined will be determined on June 23; the burglary charge carries a maximum penalty of ten years’ imprisonment and a $20,000 fine. Mr. Ward plans to appeal the conviction.
Mr. Ward, a veteran environmental leader from Corbett, Washington, turned the valve on a Kinder Morgan pipeline as part of a series of actions calling on the federal government to act decisively to address climate change, in solidarity with the Standing Rock anti-pipeline resistance in North Dakota. Prosecutors first tried to convict Mr. Ward of the felony charges — which are uncharacteristically severe for a case of nonviolent civil disobedience — in a trial in late January and early February, but the jury failed to reach a verdict. The government’s decision to retry Mr. Ward provoked criticism over waste of public resources and persecution of peaceful activists.
Mr. Ward received the split verdict after Judge Michael E. Rickert ruled prior to trial that the defense team could not present the “climate necessity defense,” an increasingly popular legal argument in which activists argue that their acts of civil disobedience are necessary to overcome corporate and governmental intransigence in the face of impending climate catastrophe. The ruling barred Mr. Ward from calling expert witnesses to testify about the science of climate change and the effectiveness of nonviolent direct action in creating political change.
That controversial judicial decision followed remarks made by Judge Rickert prior to the first trial that cast doubt on the scientific consensus on the causes of global warming, a theme revived by the prosecution in pretrial motions and jury questioning in the second trial.
Kelsey Skaggs, a staff attorney with the Climate Defense Project and a member of Mr. Ward’s defense team along with Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center and Ralph Hurvitz of Seattle, Washington, criticized the limitations placed upon Mr. Ward’s defense but emphasized the significance of the split verdict. “The right to present evidence and call witnesses is an essential part of the guarantee of a fair trial,” Ms. Skaggs said. “Especially in a situation like this, where Mr. Ward took courageous action in the public interest, the jury must be allowed to hear both sides of the story — not just the government’s biased view of what acceptable activism looks like. Even though Mr. Ward’s constitutional right to defend himself was violated — which we will address on appeal — the prosecution failed twice to convict Mr. Ward of sabotage, which is a big win against the criminalization of protest.”
The trials for Mr. Ward’s co-activists from the Shut It Down action are expected to be held this summer in Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota. Mr. Ward’s defense team plans to file its appeal in the coming weeks.
Climate Defense Project