Jury fails to agree in case over protesters who occupied the governor’s lawn

Protesters are arrested on the lawn of the Blaine House during a rally by Occupy Augusta, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011, in Augusta. Police say nine people were charged with criminal trespass and failure to disperse after refusing to leave the lawn of the governor's mansion.
Andy Molloy, The Kennebec Journal | AP
Protesters are arrested on the lawn of the Blaine House during a rally by Occupy Augusta, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011, in Augusta. Police say nine people were charged with criminal trespass and failure to disperse after refusing to leave the lawn of the governor's mansion.
Posted April 26, 2012, at 3:34 p.m.
Last modified April 26, 2012, at 6:51 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A Superior Court jury on Thursday delivered what a defense lawyer viewed as a victory for the Occupy movement as it deadlocked in a criminal trespass case stemming from a protest on the governor’s mansion property last fall.

The jury was released by Justice Nancy Mills after failing to agree on verdicts in the case against five members of Occupy Augusta. The jurors deadlocked on verdicts for each of the five defendants, said Lynne Williams, attorney for the five.

It was the second day of deliberations.

“I think it’s definitely a victory. We made an argument that the Blaine House, as part of the Capitol complex … is a public forum for First Amendment activities,” Williams said after jurors were sent home.

It was undecided whether there will be a retrial for the five: Elizabeth Burke, 48, of Union; Kimberly Cormier, 47, of Benton; Patricia Messier, 63, of Wiscasset; Jenny Gray, 54, of Wiscasset; and David Page, 44, of Surry.

Kennebec County’s acting district attorney, Alan Kelley, said no decision had been reached on whether to ask for a retrial. But he said that when deciding whether to request a new trial, his office will take into consideration a note that was passed from the jury to the judge saying some of the jurors were biased against the government and were unable to reach a verdict.

The case follows a string of court defeats for the Occupy movement in Augusta, Portland and other cities outside of the state, where judges have ruled that the protesters’ encampments could be broken up without violating the participants’ free-speech rights. Occupy members have protested what they view as economic disparities in America.

The five defendants were part of a group of nine who were charged with defying police orders to leave the Blaine House grounds on Nov. 27 in a protest launched from their Capitol Park encampment. Gov. Paul LePage was not home at the time.

The group was protesting police demands that they get a permit to continue their encampment.

Two cases remain to be tried. Of the other two decided already, one defendant pleaded no contest and was fined $250. The other, Diane Messer, of Liberty, was found guilty and fined $400 plus fees.

Messer, who was in court observing the latest case Thursday, said the Occupy members chose jury trials because “we firmly believed we had a right to defend our constitutional rights and to have a jury of our peers judge whether we were justified, and the only way to do that is to have a trial by jury.”

While deliberating, jurors at one point asked for a copy of the U.S. Constitution and later for the Bill of Rights. The judge ordered the jurors into the courtroom and told them they had been presented all of the evidence and instructed in the law, so they should be able to make a decision.

“You have to understand, the record is closed at this point,” the judge said.

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