SP4 Trial


Former Marine and Vietnam War Veteran Peter DeMott and Theresa Grady, two Ithaca defendents in the St Patrick’s 4 Trial, met with Cindy Sheehan in Crawford, Texas on August 16th. Thousands of people from across the US and many in “Camp Casey” are expected to flock to Binghamton during the week of the historic SP4 trial en route to the Anti-War March on Washington this September 24th.

History will be made in Binghamton this September 19th as the trial of the “St Patrick’s Day 4” (SP4) begins in the Binghamton Federal Court House #15. The Federal government is charging Ithaca residents Daniel Burns, Peter Demott, Clare Grady, and Theresa Grady in the first and only case of “Conspiracy against the US Government” against US civilians since the Vietnam War. Thousands of people from across the country will flock to Binghamton in September to witness this controversial case, which could set precedents that drastically change legal treatment of US civil disobedience cases.

On St Patrick’s Day, 2003, just 48 hours before the US invasion of Iraq, the four went into the Lansing, NY military recruiting center and carefully poured a small amount of their own blood in the vestibule as well as on the American flag. The “St. Patrick’s Four” were tried in Tompkins County state court in April, 2003 for “Criminal Mischief”, and convinced nine out of twelve jurors that their actions were justified under domestic and international law, and Judge John Sherman declared a mistrial. After admitting that he could not obtain a conviction of the St. Patrick’s Four in their home county,Tompkins County district attorney George Dentes took the unusual step of referring the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Despite constitutional protections of US citizens from double jeopardy, the SP4 face new charges, unprecedented in US history. In February, 2005 the federal government decided to prosecute the four under federal law with “conspiracy ‘by force, intimidation, and threat’ to impede an officer of the United States”; a felony charge that carries punishment of up to six years in prison and a $250,000 fine. They are also charged with criminal damage to property and two counts of trespass, charges punishable by up to an additional 2 years in prison. The damage incurred to the recruiting office by the defendants’ act–largely a cleaning bill–was stated during the first trial to be $450.

The SP4 performed their action at the recruitment center with the knowledge that because the United Nations had not approved the invasion of Iraq, the invasion was a violation of the 6th Amendment of the US Constitution and would constitute crimes of war and crimes against humanity according to the Nuremberg Principles of International Law. Under the legal principle called certification in NYS Law and justification in federal law, a person breaking a law in order to prevent a larger violation of law from happening, is absolved of their crime.  As Catholic Workers, they were also compelled to act by their spiritual beliefs and by their consciences.

In the upcoming federal court trial, the St. Patrick’s Four will not be able to use many of their key defenses citing the Nuremberg Principles and violations of international law. Judge Thomas J.
McAvoy has ruled that this defense is outside the scope of the court and that “an illegal war does not provide a justification for violating criminal laws of the United States.” Many expert witnesses, including Howard Zinn are not permitted to provide testimony in the SP4 trial because of McAvoy’s decision.

The Binghamton progressive community is making tremendous preparations for the expected thousands who are coming to witness this historic trial. A “Citizen’s Tribunal” where expert witnesses will present evidence in the SP4’s defense will be held publicly for the American community to judge the SP4’s actions of civil disobedience. Thousands of people are coming from all over the US the week of September 19th to “put the war on trial” in the citizen’s tribunal. Some Gold Star families from Camp Casey are expected to camp out in Binghamton during the week of the trial.

“We need to make the connection between Cindy Sheehan and the other veteran parents mouring over their childrens’ blood spilled in Iraq, and these four Ithaca parents who spilled their blood to prevent this bloodshed from happening,” said Tarik Abdelazim, an organizer of the Saint Patrick’s Four Support Network.
 
“We have never turned our back on the flag. People are now upset that we carefully and sanitarilly spilled our blood on the flag and the recruitment center, obviating what the war really is- Bloodshed. Blood is sacred, it’s what unifies us, and brings us all life. Where are the people complaining about all of the Iraqi and American blood being spilled in the sands of Iraq, where we cannot see it?” asks Defendant Pete DeMott.

“I hope that our trial brings a visibility to the horrors of this war and promotes public dialogue about US foreign policy and a quicker end to the Iraqi occupation. People in power are working full-time in perpetuating this war, and we need to start working twice as hard as they do,” says defendant Daniel Burns. According to Daniel, simply saying that you’re against war is not enough. “I hope our trial makes people less afraid to speak out, and more importantly, to act out against the injustices and horrors our leaders are engaging in. All people of conscience must become involved in the anti-war effort to their greatest ability- whether it’s by making phone calls, marching with signs- or even walking into a recruitment center.”

It’s four poor, working-class, Southern Tier parents versus the US Federal Government, now denied the right to use the defense utilized historically to justify cases of civil disobedience. Whether these Davids triumph over the government Goliath remains to be seen.

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