What regrets do I have about my choices that may have changed the direction of my life? Well, I have no regrets about my own choices. It would have been nice to be able to sing on key, but it certainly has never been my conscious choice to sing in a way that others ask me not to. I love my brother very much, though would have preferred a different sister, but again, not my decision. Last week, I was personally faced with many questions about some of my past actions that have been questioned by others, but regrets, no.
Last Tuesday, Judge Shulman was well enough to call court to order for my five friends, defendants in the Merrimack County (NH) Superior Court case for the crimes of trespassing and trespassing on railroad property. One defendant, Johnny, was also accused of resisting arrest. About thirty of us gathered to show our support for them, meeting with them before and after court outside the courthouse. Because of Covid, the number of people allowed inside the courtroom was limited. Fortunately, we had access to a conference room about two blocks away, with a videoconferencing setup and lots of snacks. We made a plan to swap people between the locations, so that everyone would have a chance to actually be in the courtroom sometime.
Somehow, I was among the lucky first batch of folks to be inside the courtroom and entered with the others before 9, the scheduled time for court to begin. So many of the court’s procedures are familiar to all of us from movies and television, yet it felt rather dramatic when these events actually occurred. For example, a courtroom attendant announced the judge’s entrance, “Please stand for the judge,” and of course, we did. Before he entered, one of the court police officers approached our group to let us know we could not take pictures or talk among ourselves during court, and to remind us to spread out, to not sit too close together.
The judge, who looked like Dr. Fauci, apologized for being out sick and provided us with details. He had come down with a cold last Friday, then woke up with a fever on Monday morning. He tested and it wasn’t Covid, then he slept all day. He was feeling much better now, 90% of perfect, he said, and was ready for work. He, like all of us, was wearing a mask. Before the jury was invited to enter, the attorneys conversed with the judge about which enlarged photos would be shown to the jury. Additionally, discussion ensued about the limits of climate-related comments to be used. The judge had advised that this case was not about climate change; however, he acknowledged that beliefs about climate change may have influenced the mental states of individual defendants, therefore, could be admitted.
Then, when our two attorneys and the prosecutor’s two and the judge determined they were ready, at 10:22 am, the court attendant announced, “Please rise for the honorable jury,” and fourteen people entered that special part of the courtroom. I noticed that the judge also stood as they entered. The jury had a certain amount of variation in size, gender, height, and style, but not in skin color, at least not visibly. I felt an intense desire to know them, to understand their motives, their values. But, of course, I never would.
The court attendant swore them in, using ‘swear or affirm’ before their promise to act honorably. Judge Shulman repeated his apology for being sick the previous day, appreciating the inconvenience it had caused to some. I liked this judge; he was very human and conscious of the effect of his actions on others.
Although I had originally decided to be present only Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday was when my friends would be testifying. I couldn’t miss that, so, despite my emotional exhaustion, I drove back to Concord again on Wednesday. I knew from my time watching from the conference room that witness testimony had been difficult to hear, because of the placement of microphones.
We’d been moved to a larger courtroom, where all of us could be present. Additionally, a group of high school students in a leadership group were observers. I loved that they were present to hear my friends testify to the urgency of climate change, the power of direct action, and the importance of community in their decisions to take this action.
On Thursday morning, I was again exhausted, plus it was raining, so the ride to Concord was not inviting at all. I decided to stay home and watch court on my computer. It was to be closing arguments and instructions to the jury, no witnesses, so the sound should not be an issue. It was lovely to hear Logan and Kira, our attorneys, present arguments for my friends, emphasizing the part that climate change played in the decisions each had made to be on that railroad bridge.
Unfortunately, the prosecution had the last word and they used it to remind the jury of the accusations and the facts concerning trespassing and my friends’ actions. Finally, the judge gave clear instructions to the jury, strongly emphasizing the importance of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’ One juror had already been excused, so Judge Shulman identified the alternate juror and then the foreperson, asking him if he was willing. He was, so the jury was excused for lunch, to be followed by their deliberations. Judge Shulman then described to the rest of us the possibilities for timing of his sentencing. He was not to work the next day, Friday, and he said that, if the jury returned with their verdicts at 4:00, he could not ask other court personnel to remain beyond that time. That meant that sentencing would not happen until at least next week.
When he left the courtroom, the video link ended. I spent the afternoon calling in about every half hour; at about 4:00, the link was alive again and the courtroom was filled. The jury had just started to report their verdicts, beginning with Emma, not guilty on both counts of criminal trespass or railroad trespass! I was ecstatic! Then, the reporting continued: Dana, guilty on both counts, the same for Dan, Jay, and Johnny, who was found not guilty of resisting arrest.
I was confused, baffled. I didn’t know how to absorb this mixed information or how to feel. It was only after the jury had been thanked and dismissed that Judge Shulman set the date for sentencing on May 13, because of the attorneys’ varying schedules and because the defendants were not local.
The question remains: do I regret the actions that I took that will place me on trial this summer? No, even before I know what sentence my co-conspirators will receive, I am ready to speak as a defendant, to accept whatever penalty my climate protest actions may bring, no regrets.
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