WASHINGTON, DC - Today, 13 death penalty abolition activists went on trial in DC Superior Court to face a charge stemming from a January 17 arrest this year at the U.S. Supreme Court. On that date, 14 protestors unfurled a 30 foot banner, which read "STOP EXECUTIONS!" on the steps of the Court. Such displays of banners are prohibited under U.S. law.
At trial, the pro-se defendants made a case against the death penalty, and
also in support of the first amendment. They challenged the
constitutionality of the statue prohibiting people from displaying at
the Supreme Court "a flag, banner, or device designed or adapted to
bring into public notice a party, organization, or movement."
After six hours of testimony, review of the evidence and presentation of oral arguments, Judge Juliet McKenna found all 13 defendants guilty and imposed a range of sentences, varying from time served and
a $100 fine (plus $50 mandatory contribution to the Victims of Violent
Crime Compensation Fund), up through suspended sentences of 5 to 60
days. Additionally, in various cases, 50 hours of community service was
imposed, and/or 1-3 years of probation with a stay-away order from the Supreme Court grounds during probation.
Four of the defendants declared in court that they would not pay any
fines or participate in community service for an arrest that they
believed to be unlawful and unjust. The judge then imposed a 60 day jail sentence on 80-year old DC resident Eve Tetaz, and a 5 day jail sentence on Jack Payden-Travers (a Lynchburg, Virginia resident) and Amber and Kevin Mason (both DC residents).
Immediately following court, Tetaz said, "Of course I don't want to go
to jail for 60 days. But 60 days or 24 hours... it doesn't matter.
What is important is that I spoke truth to power, which was the only
morally responsible thing to do."
Payden-Travers, Amber Mason and Kevin Mason began serving their sentences immediately Wednesday afternoon, and Tetaz will self report to DC jail on Monday, July 2.
All 13 defendants represented themselves, with DC attorney Mark Goldstone acting as attorney advisor to the group.
The "defendants spoke eloquently and
passionately" stated Judge McKenna at the conclusion of the trial.
"What a marvelous example of teamwork." The judge then commended
defendant Randy Gardner for "channeling your experiences...in
productive ways giving back to the community." Gardner, whose brother
was executed by a Utah firing squad in June 2010 said on the stand, "I
can't imagine teaching [my son] that it is okay to kill someone for
killing someone else." Gardner's 14-year old son sat in the courtroom
watching as his dad took the stand as one of the three defense
At the time of the January arrest, five of the defendants did not carry any identification, and
when asked for their names by the police, each responded, "I am Troy
Davis." Troy Davis was executed last September in Georgia under serious
doubt about his guilt. Although this act of solidarity did not result
in any increased penalties at trial for the involved defendants, Troy
Davis's name and memory were brought into the courtroom.
Daniel Flynn, one of the defense witnesses who took the name of Troy
Davis upon arrest, testified on the stand, "Troy Davis represents what
is wrong with the system. Troy Davis is any one of us in this court
here today." Flynn said that because of Mr. Davis's execution, "I had
to do something more. Something different."
The January 17 protest that resulted in the arrest of 14 activists took
place on the 35th anniversary of the execution of Gary Gilmore, the
first execution under contemporary laws. The protestors included Amber
Mason, Kevin Mason, Eve Tetaz, Daniel Flynn, Anne Feczko, Scott
Langley, Jack Payden-Travers, Ron Kaz, Anna Shockley, Randy Gardner,
Charity Lee, Rachel Lawler, Jon Dunn and Tom Muther.
This every-five-year protest is organized by The Abolitionist Action
Committee, an ad-hoc group of individuals committed to highly visible and effective public education for alternatives to the death penalty through nonviolent direct action.
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