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E-M:/ FW: Nuclear plant protesters' pleas end short of jury

Enviro-Mich message from "Harris, Craig" <Craig.Harris@ssc.msu.edu>


craig k harris
department of sociology
center for integrated plant systems
michigan state university
429b berkey hall
east lansing  michigan  48824-1111
tel:  517-355-5048
fax:  517-432-2856

   January 26, 2000

            Nuclear plant protesters' pleas end
            short of jury

            Anti-nukes admit to criminal trespass at Cook
            By TODD DVORAK
            Tribune Staff Writer

            ST. JOSEPH--By slowly raising their right hands, 12
anti-nuclear power protesters pleaded guilty Tuesday to criminal
trespassing at the D.C. Cook Nuclear Power Plant last summer.

            But for each of the Bridgman site protesters--some from South
Bend while others from as far away as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania--the plea
was less an admission of guilt than bitter defeat.

            "We're disappointed," said protester Chris Williams, 46, of
Indianapolis. "We believe then and we believe now that we had a duty to
point out the dangers in the plant" by getting arrested.

            "We just wanted a chance to explain that in a court of law and
to a jury."

            Williams and 11 others were to be tried by a jury in Berrien
County Trial Court for trespassing on plant premises during a protest rally
Aug. 19. Altogether, 17 protesters were peacefully arrested after crossing
the yellow police tape separating public from plant property.

            One pleaded guilty during the initial arraignment. But four
others have failed to appear either to be arraigned or for Tuesday's trial.
Warrants have been issued seeking their arrest, assistant Berrien County
prosecutor Jennifer Smith said.

            But for the 12 trial-ready activists, who also hoped to put the
Cook plant and its safety record on trial, their day in court ended before
it ever really started when the judge rejected the foundation of their
defense strategy.

            Ruling on a key pre-trial motion, acting Judge Wilbur
Schillinger denied the defendants' use of the "necessity" defense.

            Under that strategy, defense attorneys planned to argue that
the protesters had no choice but to take part in acts of civil disobedience
in light of findings that the plant operated with faulty safety and
emergency systems prior to its shutdown in 1997 by federal regulators.

            Denied their defense strategy, the 12 defendants debated their
trial options for more than an  hour before marching into the courtroom to
admit to entering plant property without permission.

            After accepting the pleas, the judge ordered each to pay $150
in fines and costs.

            "I'm very disappointed in being denied the chance to defend
ourselves in this court of justice," Kevin Kamps, a 30 year-old Kalamazoo
native told the judge prior to sentencing.

            Others, angered by the outcome and the reality they lost wages
to attend the trial, blasted the judge's ruling, the Cook plant and the
entire nuclear power industry.

            "This is just an accident waiting to happen," Gene Stilp, 49,
of Harrisburg, Pa., said of the American Electric Power-operated plant.

            Several suggested they would appeal the judge's decision.

            Had the activists been able to make their case, defense
attorney Kary Love, of Holland, said he planned to argue that the Cook
plant and the circumstances of its safety record presented an imminent
threat to the region.

            "In effect, these citizens (defendants) sought by their actions
to prevent a West Michigan Chernobyl," Love wrote in his court brief.

            But Schillinger, who retired in 1995 as Berrien County probate
judge, thought otherwise.

            He rejected the notion the plant posed an imminent peril to the
community and region. Moreover, he said, letting a jury sanction the
protester's acts on such grounds would usurp the state and congressional
authority over safety at the nation's power plants.

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