FARMINGTON, Maine — Two protesters of the TransCanada wind energy project in northern Franklin County entered pleas via their attorney before the start of a trial Monday in Franklin County Superior Court.
Attorney Barbara Chassie represented Ana Rodriguez, 30, of Lakeworth, Fla., and Courtney Butcher of Pine River, Minn.
Justice Michaela Murphy accepted Rodriguez’s plea of guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failure to disperse. Murphy sentenced her to a deferred disposition, meaning if she completes everything ordered in the agreement, keeps out of trouble for 12 months and does 50 hours of community service, she will be able to withdraw her guilty plea.
Butcher pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of failure to disperse rather than criminal trespass. Murphy ordered her to pay a $100 fine and $60 in fees.
Chassie said both clients were not able to attend due to personal commitments.
The two were among four arrested July 6, 2010, during an Earth First! protest of TransCanada’s wind turbine project on Kibby Mountain and after trying to stop a similar development on neighboring Sisk Mountain.
The protest started at the private Gold Brook Road that leads to the 44-wind turbine project on Kibby Mountain and Kibby Range in Kibby Township. The corporation also was seeking a permit to install 15 more wind turbines on adjacent Sisk Mountain in Chain of Ponds Township.
The other defendants, Willow Cordes-Eklund, 27, of Minneapolis, Minn., and Erik Gillard, 27, of Montpelier, Vt., went on trial Monday. Cordes-Eklund chained herself by the neck to an undercarriage of a truck that was hauling one of the blades to Kibby Mountain. Gillard is accused of stepping up on the running board of the driver’s side of the truck and trying to reach inside after a Border Patrol agent told him to stop.
Assistant District Attorney James Andrews said in his opening statement that the protest was a planned effort to stop the truck carrying the turbine blade after they were repeatedly told not to go near the truck.
Defense attorney Phil Worden, representing Cordes-Eklund, said the basic facts of the case were not disputed, but what is challenged is whether they committed the crime of failure to disperse.
“These defendants are not guilty of failure to disperse,” Worden said.
According to state police testimony, protesters were ordered off Gold Brook Road to the other side of Route 27.
Maine State Police Trooper Peter Michaud testified Monday that he read a written order to protesters that if they failed to disperse or stay off Route 27, they would be in violation of the law and subject to arrest. About 10 minutes later, protesters dispersed heading down Route 27, he said.
State Trooper Timothy Black testified that he was driving the lead cruiser in a caravan hauling a blade to provide security for the load and traffic safety. He said they were about 20 minutes from the destination, traveling on Route 27, when a group of people came out from a rest stop and started walking toward the convoy. He estimated there were more than 20 of them.
Black said he told them if they went near the load, they would be arrested.
A video recorded from Black’s cruiser was played, and in it he tells them to stay back and not to go past him. He kept saying, “Do not move. Do you understand that? If you move, you will go to jail.”
Black said he gave Cordes-Eklund and a man a verbal warning.
Worden cross-examined Black and said, “I think it would be difficult to disperse if there is a police officer saying ‘don’t move.’”
Black answered “yes.”
Border Patrol Agent John Crosby testified that he told Gillard to stop when he started running to the truck. He ended up pulling him down off the running board and taking him into custody.
After more state police testimony and cross-examination, the state rested its case.
Worden asked the court to acquit the defendants, but Justice Murphy denied the request.
Defense attorney Lynne Williams called her client, Gillard, to testify. Gillard said he complied with Michaud’s order at Gold Brook Road and moved on. He also said he was not in the line of people approaching the truck.
He said he was near the second vehicle and got up on the running board to try to calm the driver’s excitement and anger and say no one would be hurt.
He denied putting his hands in the truck and reaching to take control, as Crosby testified. He also did not recall an order to disperse from this site or an order not to go on Route 27.
Andrews asked if the event was planned.
Gillard said it wasn’t. He said he knew there was a possibility of being arrested, but the group is committed to protecting wilderness, and he was willing to be arrested for the cause.
Cordes-Eklund testified she arrived late to the protest and didn’t hear Michaud’s statement. She said she heard the truck coming, picked up a U-lock and cable chain and locked herself to the truck because she believed a statement needed to be made through civil disobedience. She said she was willing to be arrested to protect her beliefs.
“It is a choice we all make,” she said.
Attorneys will give closing statements to the eight women and five men of the jury at 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 21.
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