October 24, 2019, Thursday – Judge Lisa Godbey Wood came into the courtroom at 9:37 to review the charge sheets and jury instructions with the lawyers. Bill Quigley entered a few objections into the record, and by 10:10 the jury was brought into court.
Prosecutor Knoche presented the closing argument for the government. He put the google earth view of the navy base up on the screen and mapped out the path of the Kings Bay 7 as they entered the base, trekked through swamp and woodland and divided into three groups.
One group headed to the high security Limited Area to bear witness to the bunkers (which they believe store thermonuclear weapons, though the government will neither confirm nor deny); the others moved to the administration building and the missile shrine where they hung banners, poured blood, posted an indictment, strung crime scene tape, painted messages of love and prophetic witness on sidewalks and “missiles,” and removed lettering and lights from the large sign that declared STRATEGIC WEAPONS FACILITY ATLANTIC before they were arrested by officials—Marines at the Limited Area and base police at the missile shrine.
Prosecutor Knoche reviewed the rest of the evidence in the context of the charges. “Their intent was clear,” NCIS Special Agent Kenney had testified. “They came on the base without authority to damage, depredate—that’s a jeopardy word, starts with D— on the base in order to proclaim their views on nuclear weapons.”
Knoche resurrected his red-light analogy and warned the jury that “this won’t be the land we love if people are free to pick and choose which laws they will obey.” He cited the damage charges in excess of $30,500 and recounted the bill his insurance company got when he had a fender bender.
They said they “came in peace,” he said, but they couldn’t spread their message without wrecking stuff. He noted the base has an area off-site designated for protests but forcing employees to come to work where the sidewalk has been painted with messages of love and peace— “that’s not a pleasant sight to come upon.”
He prefigured the judge’s instructions to set the table for a guilty verdict. “For each defendant, that box should be checked,” he said in conclusion. “Follow the law as instructed. There is not a lot of whodunit. The dots can be connected. It’s as clear as can be.”
Bill Quigley for Liz Closing
Bill Quigley rose for the defense. He asked for an exhibit to be projected on the jury screens and the large screen at the edge of the room and the words of the banner materialized: NUCLEAR WEAPONS ILLEGAL IMMORAL
After thanking everyone for their time and attention, he said, “The question before you is whether these seven people came to commit a crime or to prevent a crime.”
He then outlined three keys for the jury to take into their deliberations. First, their solemn responsibility as a juror to treat the defendants as they would want to be treated. Ultimately, it is up to you to be yourself. Second, remember the presumption of innocence—as of right now and until and unless you decide. Third, beyond all reasonable doubt.
“The defendants agreed on a lot,” he said. “They all said they did this. But beyond a reasonable doubt is for each count for each of seven people. You have 28 decisions to make, plus the elements and parts for each. Each time, the burden of proof is on the government beyond a reasonable doubt for each element in each of the charges.
“These terms are important to us. Count 1—willfully and maliciously; Count 2—willfully and maliciously; and Count 3, willfully depredating, which is different than damage.”
Quigley noted there were parts of the video that the government chose to edit out; things they didn’t want the jury to hear, some of which the defense showed.
“The government’s sequence of events has no prayer, no spiritual dimension, no message dimension. But if you look at the defense’s evidence, the reality of their beliefs shines through. They are loving people, they follow Jesus, they honor Dr. King.
“They prayed for two years,” he continued. “As they entered, they prayed. They compared their action to Jesus cleansing the temple. They literally gave their own blood. They held up banners; they said, ‘We come in peace,’ they stayed in the light. Does this sound like people acting willfully and maliciously?”
Quigley told the jurors that even if they blocked out everything the defendants said about their behavior, he had counted 33 times in the testimony of the prosecution witnesses when the defendants were identified as non-threatening, non-combative, cooperative, not malicious, praying the “Hail Mary.” “On the base, they talk about the incursion into the Limited Area as ‘The Night the Protesters Entered the Rabbit Run.’ It sounds like a Dr. Seuss title.”
In closing Quigley asked the jury to “stand up for what you believe. Your definition of beyond a reasonable doubt may not be the same as someone else’s. In the end, it’s up to you to decide: did they come to commit a crime or to prevent a crime?”
At 11:00am, we took a break.
Clare Grady was next. “The opening of this case was about justice,” she said to the jury. “You took an oath that you would do justice. We rely on you to do that. I know you will keep your promise. You alone are the deciders of a just verdict. I ask you to follow your conscience and your heart. The prosecutor will tell you this is a simple case and you have no choice. That’s not true. The judge will say use your common sense and the instructions she gives you in the law. No computer can render justice. It won’t be the judge or the lawyers. It will be you. “
She told the jury that facts don’t exist outside of a context that gives them meaning. She noted that the prosecutor asked her about obeying red lights, which she said she does obey. But Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “Where a fire is raging the truck goes through red lights, and normal traffic better get out of the way. Like an ambulance, sometimes it is necessary to ignore the red lights of the system.”
“Nuclear weapons can destroy life on earth,” she told the jury. “We hope you are allowed to bring that truth into the context of the facts as you decide. The omnipresent threat of nuclear weapons is like a cocked gun held to the head of the planet. Even if you never fire, you are using the gun. Even if these weapons are never launched, they are still a weapon.”
Grady asked the jury to judge their actions in the context of their religious belief. “We are taught to love one another as I have loved you. That is a hard invitation, but one that gives life.”
Grady withstood several objections as she made her argument to the jury.
She asked the jury to deliberate with their heads and hearts. If you feel forced to render a verdict that violates your conscience, where is the justice? The prosecutor rose to object and the judge called a sidebar. When they returned, Clare said, “Follow the law, follow the facts, follow your conscience.”
At 11:45, Mark Colville rose to make his closing argument. He placed a large picture of the missile shrine on the easel for the jury. “Good morning,” he said. “I think the evidence has shown that the seven of us were between a rock and a hard place. The rock is Jesus, who told us to lay down our life for others. The hard place is the Kings Bay Naval Base, where the US government has the most poisonous and most dangerous weapons in the world. And we are required to live under their protection. We are forced to live a lie.”
The evidence, Colville said, showed the defendants were motivated not by malice, but by a sincere belief that the weapons are sinful. “Our action was to unmask them, to take our names off them, to remove them from our lives.” He noted that the government and the court had tried to ignore the nature of their action and the reason for it. “But we need not be ignored by you,” he said to the jury. “In the jury room, as you deliberate, you may reach an uncomfortable conclusion,” he said. “You may find that the government willfully placed nuclear weapons beyond the rule of law.”
“The government tried to show us as not obeying the law, even using the ridiculous example of the red light. But maybe it’s not such a bad analogy. When the law is obeyed without conscience, without respect for life, it becomes an idol. It enslaves us.”
When he reached the point of suggesting to the jury that they have the power to withdraw consent from nuclear weapons the prosecution objected, and the judge sustained, telling the jury, “I will instruct you. Any suggestion that you should use someone else’s view is just not right.”
“I am trying to address the characterization that I don’t respect the law,” Colville said. “I do respect the law. Sometimes, over time, I see how it gets changed, how it gets to justice. And I ask how can I act—50 years ago what was allowed? 100 years ago, what was even allowed in this courtroom. 150 years ago, what was legal in this state?”
“I have been on a jury before, and if I am on a jury again, I will ask myself “What is my decision going to look like in fifty years, if I have that much time left…”
At 11:50, Carmen Trotta came to the lectern. Carmen started out by thanking the jury. He then remarked that words are potent and can pierce one’s heart. He spoke of the popular definition of malicious, then turned to depredation. “Depredation comes from the word for predator…” The prosecution objected that there is a specific legal definition for the word. “I know,” Carmen said, “I am coming to that. The root of the word refers to a means of survival. Predators seek prey to feed themselves. We were not malicious. We harmed no one. We had nothing to gain.”
“You will be instructed that those words have specific legal meanings. Take them in light of the evidence.”
“Sacrament is another word. A visible symbol of an invisible reality. We left symbols behind us. The missile shrine, the hollywood lights. You saw in the video Clare saying, ‘This looks like vandalism,’ and she recoils. The prosecution wants you to think it’s like a child’s temper tantrum.
“But it looks like the outrage of God. The invisible reality is that it is these weapon that may destroy, depredate, harm God’s creation.”
“And we sought a blessing. We sought the mitigation of God’s anger, we sought to be forgiven. The Kings Bay Seven are peacemakers. That’s Bible code for children of God, which I have on good authority all creation waits for. You heard that we did not intend to break the law. The government, at the beginning of this case, asked you to seek the truth. I pray you do indeed seek the truth.”
Patrick O’Neill followed suit in his comments. He noted that Assistant US Attorney Greg Giluly had, at one point, said “For about an hour, you were all engaged in transformation.” Patrick said, “He got it exactly right.”
O’Neill noted the strangeness of the case—how the defendants made no attempt to escape or avoid the consequences for their action. He was interrupted numerous times by objections which were duly sustained by the judge.
In the end, after invoking Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., Patrick said, “We were prayerful, not malicious; we were loving, not malicious; we were life-affirming, not malicious.”
The judge turned to Steve Kelly. “I adopt the statements of my co-defendants,” he said. At 12:28, the judge called a 10-minute break. Twenty-seven minutes later, court reconvened; judge and jury having an opportunity for a snack break, but defendants and spectators left waiting in the courtroom.
Stephanie for Martha’s Closing
Stephanie Amiotte delivered the closing argument for Martha Hennessy, pointing out to the jury that Martha had caused very little damage—painting that required pressure washing, and nothing more. Because of the nature of the “one for all and all for one” prosecution. the jury’s failure to convict Martha of damage in excess of $1,000 could result in acquittals for all the defendants.
She noted that the weapons at Kings Bay have the equivalent power of 100 Hiroshimas and repeated their message “May love disarm us all.”
The prosecution was given time to summarize and Assistant Attorney Gilluly drew the task. He was animated as he spoke to the jury, and grew even more so, raising his voice each time he spoke of the defendants “coming TO OUR JURISDICTION, TO KINGS BAY IN THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA to do what they did,” and later when he referred to “THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!” almost incredulous that such a thing could happen here.
He noted the defendants testified “We carried each other,” and pointed to the conspiracy charge. He dismissed their religious faith, motives and intent, and their concern about nuclear weapons “100% not important.” He derided their invocation of Jesus and Martin Luther King, Jr. “Did Jesus ever bring a power saw?” He pointed to their defacing of property in a litany, responding “that’s not a peaceful protest,” each time, as if he almost expected the jury to begin to join him in the response.
He rested, and the Judge began jury instructions just after 2:00pm.
At 4:00pm the jury returned to the courtroom.
As soon as the court clerk began reading the first verdict, it was all clear. The seven would be found guilty on all counts, and, one by one, they were. The jury was polled and confirmed their verdict.
You might imagine, in the staid marble hallways of the federal courthouse in Brunswick, Georgia, that such verdicts would quench any spirit of hope—but as soon as the judge declared court recessed, the defendants allowed to continue release on the same conditions to await sentencing at a date to be determined, the overflow room erupted in song. “Rejoice, rejoice, again I say rejoice— “It was one voice and then two, and by the end of the first stanza, half a dozen. As we filed into the hall we were met by people coming from the main courtroom who took up the song. We lined the hallways and the sound grew in volume and tempo. “Rejoice, rejoice, again I say rejoice!”
The defendants emerged to hugs and began to sing along, arms draped around family and supporters. And then, Carmen Trotta came down the hall and signaled our departure, down the stairs, the stairwell echoing the sound, and out past the security guards, nods and farewells to the marshals whose courtesy was mostly unstinting and generous as they did their job.
Outside the courthouse, on the front steps, six of the defendants gathered with Bill Quigley and other members of the legal team for a press conference. (Steve Kelly remains in jail, refusing to be released under conditions set by the court.)
Just before the judge released the defendants, Patrick O’Neill, noting the judge was unlikely to know the answer, asked if she imagined the sentencing hearing would be before Christmas. “I do not know,” she said. “Would you like it to be before? Or after?” “After,” said Patrick. “After New Year’s actually.”
The sentencing hearing will not be scheduled until the Probation officer completes the presentencing report for all seven defendants and they have a chance to review it. Depending on the resources dedicated to it, it could take weeks, or it could be months.