Tax Day trespassing case ends in hung jury

-A A +A
By Carol A. Clark

What started as a 24-hour prayer vigil in front of Los Alamos National Laboratory ended with two men praying through the night in a jail cell at the Los Alamos Detention Facility.

The men were part of a small group praying and protesting April 14 against tax money used to build nuclear weapons.

Trinity Nuclear Abolitionists members Marcus Patrick Blaise Page, 41, of Albuquerque and Michael Butler, 21, of Gallup were arrested about 9:30 p.m. and charged with criminal trespassing.

They refused to leave DOE property around Los Alamos Fire Department Station 1 and the Los Alamos Research Park on West Jemez Road, according to court documents.

Criminal trespassing carries a $1,000 fine and or up to 364 days in prison. Butler accepted a plea bargain in which he pleaded no contest and will serve 30 days of unsupervised probation. Page declined, choosing to stand trial in Magistrate Court.

On Monday, a Los Alamos jury of six could not come to consensus on the case after some three hours of testimony and four hours of deliberation.

Los Alamos Police Sgt. Jason Wardlow represented the State of New Mexico against Page who acted in his own defense.

Wardlow laid out the case against Page explaining that he entered DOE land without permission of the owner, he knew or should have known permission was not granted and he remained on the property after being asked to leave.

According to court testimony, LANL security officials including Physical Security Division Leader Jack Killeen, offered Page and Butler rides to another location near the ski hill where they would have a view of the laboratory for their prayer vigil.

They also were offered a ride back in the morning. “We very much support the right to demonstrate and protest at the laboratory...however, what we do is detail in a letter what is allowed within the safety and security perimeters of the laboratory,” Killeen said in court.

The letter states that demonstrations and gatherings can take place between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Page and Butler left the area at 6:30 p.m., Page said, but they moved across the street to the fire station.

Battalion Chief Juan Pacheco testified that he asked the men to leave for safety concerns and because people can’t be camping outside the fire station.

Executive Director Kevin Holsapple of the Commerce and Development Corporation testified that he was called out because the men were camping at the Research Park.

He also asked them to leave, stating liability issues and said he brought along some brochures showing the men alternative locations where they would be able to conduct their prayer vigil.

Page testified that he believed the property around the fire station and the research park belonged to Los Alamos County.

Wardlow had Chief Deputy Clerk Sheryl Nichols show a plat map to the jury, which clearly indicated the property was owned by DOE.

Page called several witnesses who spoke primarily against nuclear weapons and Article Six regarding treaties. Floy Barrett of Albuquerque spoke of the horrors of Hiroshima detailing the deaths and disfigurements.

Another witness, Bud Ryan of Cedar Crest, N.M., is president of Trinity Catholic Workers House, of which Page is a member.

“Nuclear weapons are illegal and immoral and any country that uses them is illegal and immoral,” Ryan told the jury. “I’m coming from a Christian basis and as an American and a patriot, our county has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the U.S. is in violation ... just read Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.

Upon hearing of the hung jury Monday evening, Page said, “I feel grateful that it was a good quality jury who took enough interest to deliberate carefully and I thank them for sticking to what they feel is right.”

Page and other members of his group intend to continue their monthly prayer vigils, which he said typically last about an hour.

The state has two years to refile the case against Page, Wardlow said, adding that the decision to do so has yet to be determined.

The last time a Trinity Catholic Workers House member was prosecuted in Los Alamos Magistrate Court was in the mid-1990s when Vince Eirene was convicted of criminal trespassing. He spent six months in jail.