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All of the self-proclaimed “LANL 6” received a light sentence in court Wednesday, each getting a year’s probation and a fine.
It could have been worse. The maximum sentence each could have received for their Aug. 6 2012 protest outside of the Los Alamos National Laboratory could have netted the defendants 179 days in jail and a $1,500 fine.
On Aug. 6 of last year, the protesters were part of a Monday morning demonstration at the corner of Diamond Drive and West Jemez Road, the main entranceway to the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Aug. 6 1945 was the day the first nuclear weapon was used in war and is known as “Hiroshima Day.” The event was the last one in a weekend of peaceful demonstrations and speeches that took place in Los Alamos as well as Santa Fe. It was sponsored by Occupy Santa Fe. Those arrested included Catherine Euler, Barbara Grothus, Cathie Sullivan, Benjamin Abbott, Pamela Gilchrist and Janet Greenwald.
The demonstrators blocked traffic twice that morning, once around 8 a.m. and another time an hour-and-a-half later. The first time they heeded warnings from police and LANL security to stay out of traffic but the second time, six stayed behind, purposely forcing LANL commuters to go around them in their cars to access the government facility. The protesters were arrested, each charged with trespassing, obstruction of traffic and failure to obey a lawful order by a police officer.
In Los Alamos Municipal Court Wednesday, Judge Alan Kirk found them not guilty on the trespassing charge, but found all six guilty of failure to obey an officer and obstructing traffic.
Kirk assigned a $100 fine for each guilty charge and added $41 in court costs plus a $60 probation fee. Together, each of the six was ordered to pay $342.
At the time of the verdict, their defense attorney Jeffrey Haas, was debating on whether or not to appeal the judge’s ruling or accept it.
“It seems to me to be a pretty harsh sentence, particularly for something that was really a petty thing,” he said. “In some ways, I think he made the defendants pay for going to trial. While he gave them leeway to tell their story he exacted a price. You want to come here and speak truth to power then you’re going to pay for this supposed crime.”
Gilchrist, one of the protesters, also pointed out that a year’s probation keeps them from coming to protest at the next Aug. 6 Hiroshima Day event.
In the days leading up to the trial, numerous references were made about Kirk’s past as the former police chief of Los Alamos. That was one reason the courtroom and the outside lobby was packed Wednesday, because Haas wanted to make sure Kirk would see how much support was backing the LANL 6.
“That is the situation facing the Los Alamos 6,” Haas said at one event. “I think the only thing that could balance that is your presence in the courtroom and outside showing your support.”
But Haas and the others needn’t have worried. From the start, despite the objection of prosecuting attorney A.J. Salazar, Kirk, for the most part, let Haas bring out each of the defendants’ backgrounds and histories in anti-nuclear activism as Haas interviewed each witness on the stand.
At times, the testimony was tearful and at other times steely and passionate
“I was there to make sure that we bring all the resources we had to mitigate climate destruction,” Gilchrist said, when asked by Haas what she was doing blocking the intersection.
Greenwald broke down on the stand at one point when she recalled seeing at a local hospital, pictures of birth defects that she said was a direct result of the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s negative impact on the environment.
Just prior to sentencing, Kirk explained to the packed courtroom why he let the LANL 6 use the court as a platform to express their beliefs.
“... They got to have their say and I thought that was important,” Kirk told the defendants and their supporters in the courtroom.
However, Kirk also said that he also believes the group could have made their statement on Aug. 6 while still following traffic laws and not endangering themselves and others by blocking traffic to the lab.
“I understand your emotions, I grew up in Los Alamos. I support your position and your opinions ... I respect that, your freedom of speech and the positions that you hold,” he said to the defendants. “I think there was a point when the police bent over backwards for you by asking you four separate times to leave the roadway. If you had done that, I still think you would have accomplished your goal.”