Jury selection began at 9:00am on Monday October 21st, with seventy-two prospective jurors filling the courtroom; most audience members were seated on metal folding chairs in a specially-arranged small overflow room watching on a 32 inch screen. Despite several long signal interruptions, we were able to follow much of the proceedings.
At 11:10am the judge had finished the opening round of voir dire. “It’s French, she said, for “speak truth”— and was ready to move into the private round in sidebars with individual prospects who had identified potential conflicts and the lawyers for both sides, including the five defendants who are representing themselves (pro se) in the proceedings.
By the time she got to that point, Judge Wood had informed the jurors of the four charges—conspiracy, depredation of government property, destruction in excess of $1,000, and trespass, introduced them to all the courtroom personnel, reviewed all the lawyers and named all their partners and colleagues and asked, “Are you related to or do you know any of these people?” For those who answered yes, the follow-up was, “Can you still be fair to both sides?”
At times, a prospective juror strained for honesty and said, “I think so,” to which the judge quickly replied, “On your oath as a juror, can you be fair and impartial?” Invariably, they decided they could.
At one point, she asked jurors to identify themselves if they “already have decided they are guilty.” Nine jurors raised their hands.
A few minutes later, the Judge asked, “How many of you have read or heard or seen something about this case?” Twenty-three jurors raised their hands, including seven of the nine who had already decided the defendants are guilty.
Which means, if you do the math, two prospective jurors who had never heard anything about the case had already decided the seven were guilty. Just look like the type, I suppose.
Just after 1:00pm, the judge concluded the sidebars. A number of jurors had been dismissed, apparently “for cause,” meaning they had a conflict that the lawyers or judge found untenable. “We’ll come back from lunch and finish,” said the judge. “We’ve done the lion’s share, but we have a little more to do.”
At 2:15 the judge’s assistant began calling out numbers chosen at random from the remaining prospects. Thirty-two names were called. One by one the judge ran through a list of questions—where do you live, where do you work, where does your spouse work, do you have children, where do they work, have you ever served in the military, have you every served on a jury, without telling me what the verdict was, were you able to reach a verdict, and what is your level of education?
We took a break at 3:15, and returned for the lawyers and defendants to pass slips of paper back and forth across the aisle, winnowing down the jury pool by exercising their peremptory challenges; half an hour later the judge called fourteen numbers (twelve jurors and two alternates; ten women and four men) and declared, “We have a jury.” She administered the oath and gave preliminary instructions.
Then, at ten minutes to 4:00, without allowing the audience in the overflow room to move into the courtroom the jury pool had vacated, she turned to the prosecutor and said, “We are ready for brief
The prosecutor was understated and matter of fact as he reviewed the evidence that would be presented and the people who would be presenting it. He described in detail how the seven cut a lock and entered the military base, how Steve Kelly, Liz McAlister and Carmen Trotta went into the high security Limited Zone, cutting concertina wire, undeterred by announcements threatening the use of deadly force, and held up banners until they were detained by base personnel and then the police.
He explained that the other four, carrying grinders, pry bars, hammers, banners, paint and blood, arrived at the Engineering Services Building and the nearby static display of strategic weapons. They pried letters off the sign, poured blood, hammered at missiles, and committed “various acts of destruction” until they were detained by authorities.
He noted that the defendants wore GoPro cameras as they went onto the base. “We’ll show you the video,” he promised.
“Conspiracy,” he told the jurors, “is an agreement. It’s not a written contract—that would be a legal document. It’s an illegal act.” He concluded by telling the jury that their duty is to hear the evidence, listen to the judge’s instructions, retire and deliberate. “The facts are no more complicated than what I just described,” he told them. “We’ll ask you to return a verdict of guilty.”
Bill Quigley rose to speak for the defense. “If I were in your seat,” he said, “I would have three questions. One—who are these people? Two—what did they do? And three—why did they do it?”
“The prosecutor has done a good job of providing you a roadmap of their activities. I want to tell you a little about who these people are,” Quigley said, and he proceeded to review the lives and work of the defendants, beginning with Liz McAlister, his client. Her three children are here, he said, and her six grandchildren. He spoke of her relationship with Phil, the founding of Jonah House, her commitment to the poor and homeless, her determination to do what she could to see that nuclear weapon money was not spent on bombs but to meet the needs of the poor.
“You can’t understand why she came to Kings Bay without understanding her Catholic faith. She came because of her faith, and because of the Ten Commandments.“She engaged in an act of symbolic disarmament,” he told the jury. “She understood she might be arrested. She is not denying she did the actions; she is denying that what she did constitutes a crime. She has already spend 18 months in jail…”
The judge interrupted to admonish Quigley against straying into talking about punishment (which he clearly was not, yet). He resumed: “She prays for peace many times a day. Her faith teaches her “Thou shalt not kill.” She doesn’t want to go to jail; she would rather spend her time with her kids and grandkids. But she wants even more for them to be able to grow up in a world without nuclear weapons.”
Saying he would give a snapshot of the others, Quigley noted they are all devout Christians in the Catholic tradition. Their work is helping the poor, the elderly, the disabled, the hungry. And they are working for peace.
“They take the Bible very, very seriously,” he said. “That’s why they took small hammers, because the Bible talks about…and he quoted Isaiah 2:4, “beating swords into plowshares, and studying war no more.”
The prosecution rose to object to the Bible quote, and the Judge, without actually ruling on the objection, told Quigley to “Remember the focus of the trial. Go on.”
Bill reviewed Steve Kelly’s career briefly, followed by Martha Hennessy, Patrick O’Neill, Clare Grady, Mark Colville, and Carmen Trotta.
“What did they do?” Quigley asked. “You’ll see the videotape. You’ll see what they did, you’ll hear why they did it. They believe nuclear weapons are immoral. They chose Kings Bay because of the presence of nuclear weapons. They came on a day they chose on purpose—the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination. They prayed on the base. No one was hurt or threatened. The
spokesman for the base said that the next morning.
It was an act of conscience. They read a statement, that the nuclear weapons on the base have the power of 3,600 Hiroshimas. They had small hammers and big banners; they were seen and passed by base personnel before they were arrested. They spilled blood and painted on the missile shrine as a symbolic act of disarmament.
“Why? Thou shalt not kill. Their faith. Their love of their children and grandchildren. They are looking forward to their chance to talk to you about that. They are not perfect, none of them. But they are motivated by their faith, by charity, and by hope. That you will hear.
“The government will ask you to convict them,” Quigley said in closing. “The defendants will ask you to do justice.”
Clare Grady then spoke—The judge said the remaining defendants had reserved their time until after the prosecution makes its case.
Clare spoke of her upbringing in a big Catholic family, with a lot of joy, music, dance, and love. She spoke of her family members who feed the hungry, are police officers, work in health care and hospitality, of her many years serving in a community kitchen, of her Catholic Worker background, and the admonition in Matthew’s gospel to feed the hungry, and of caring for her elderly mother. “My greatest joy is my kids,” she said to the jury, “and to feel the earth, being in the natural world.”
The prosecution objected, and the judge reminded Grady that the purpose of an opening statement is to refer to the evidence. Clare spoke of her community gardening and the work of justice. “Not about hurting, about healing,” she said, referencing Cornel West. The judge interrupted without waiting for an objection, “This is a preview of the evidence,” she said to Grady.
Clare spoke of the responsibility to do justice —”Only you can render a verdict”, she told the jury. “The most important virtue you bring to this is being human. “Our actions were not criminal,” she said. “We’re saying we were there and we did this. It was a nonviolent, symbolic act of disarmament. The evidence will show that we acted to uphold the law.”
Then she spoke of her deep love for God and creation. “We brought a banner decrying nuclear weapons as immoral and illegal. We took full responsibility and are here for this trial, not because we are guilty, but because it was necessary. Trident is the most deadly weapon on the planet.”
“We came here to defend and protect God’s creation, not to destroy—these weapons can destroy all creation. The highest law is to love one another,” she said, “As it is written in Isaiah…”
The prosecutor objected. The judge sustained. Clare thanked the jury and sat down.
At ten til five, the judge released the jury, admonishing them not to speak about the case to anyone. She then turned to the defendants and said, “I have to deliver a bit of a cautionary note. I have issued rulings,” she said. “If you can’t follow them, we will have to make alternative arrangements for your participation in the trial. The purpose of a criminal trial is not to convert someone to your belief, but for them to hear the evidence so they can decide. I gave a lot of leeway this afternoon,” she said. “Now I am telling you to be careful to follow the orders of the court.”
With that, after a brief discussion of the difficulty of hearing when speakers did not directly address the microphone, court adjourned.