BRATTLEBORO, Vermont –(ENEWSPF)–November 28 – A Windham County jury convicted six women of the Shut It Down Affinity Group of unlawful trespass for their August 30, 2011 activity at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.
Judge John C. Wesley presided at the daylong trial and imposed a $350 fine on each of the women after a hearing during which the prosecutor, Steven Brown, requested a sentence of 30-45 days in jail, suspended, and 100 hours of community service in Vermont.
All from Massachusetts, the women proceeded through the trial pro se, on their own behalf after waiving counsel. All informed the court they would refuse to pay the fine.
Convicted are Betsy Corner, 64, of Colrain; Hattie Nestel, 73, of Athol; Frances Crowe, 93; Nancy First, 82; and Paki Wieland, 69, of Northampton; Ellen Graves, 68, of West Springfield.
Judge Wesley refused to allow what he identified as a “necessity defense” after objections from Mr. Brown when the women argued that their presence at the power plant occurred when they exhausted legal avenues and chained themselves to the gate in order to shut down the nuclear plant because of the danger it poses.
Nevertheless, Judge Wesley allowed what he called “broad latitude” to the defendants as they made opening statements, testimony statements, cross examinations, and closing statements. The defendants repeatedly asserted that the Entergy Corporation and the power plant are trespassing in Vermont because the license to operate has expired.
In declarations that Judge Wesley instructed the jury to disregard, the defendants indicted Vermont Yankee and its owner, the Entergy Corporation, for violating Vermont law by continuing to operate, for polluting the environment, for dishonoring its 2002 purchase agreement with the state, and for storing nuclear waste five stories up in spent fuel rods.
The defendants told the jury that the nuclear reactor at Vermont Yankee is the same model as those that melted down at Fukushima.
After about an hour of deliberation, the jury sent out a request for clarification about ownership of the plant. Judge Wesley’s answer, crafted after conference with the prosecution and the defendants, indicated that Entergy Corporation owns the power plant. Shortly thereafter, the jury reached its verdict.
Some forty spectators attended the trial.
At sentencing, Judge Wesley said he imposed the monetary fine because he believed the women who had acted in conscience would not observe a restrictive sentence including a condition not to return to the power plant. Because they had refused community service, he said, his only recourse was “money,” a monetary fine.
Also all from Massachusetts, Marcia Gagliardi of Athol, Connie Harvard of Northampton, and Judy Wolter of Northfield provided direct support for the defendants during the trial. Sometimes accompanied by others including Sister Clare Carter of the Leverett Peace Pagoda, Ms. Wolter vigiled outside the courthouse in blustery weather during jury selection and the trial.
Spectators and the Shut It Down women observed that the atmosphere in the courtroom was courteous throughout the trial, which began Monday with jury selection.