Judge releases Blackwater protesters after quiet debate of the issues
Virginian Pilot (2008-01-24) Bill Sizemore
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By Bill Sizemore
© January 24, 2008
A North Carolina courtroom became the setting of an impromptu seminar on the law, the Constitution and the Bible today as seven convicted Blackwater protesters engaged in a gentle debate with their sentencing judge.
When it was over, the seven walked out free.
Judge Russell Duke gave no additional jail time to the group for a demonstration at Blackwater’s Moyock headquarters Oct. 20, a re-enactment of a Sept. 16 shooting incident in Baghdad involving Blackwater security contractors in which 17 Iraqi civilians died. The seven were originally convicted in District Court in December, all but one of them in trials that were closed to the media and the public. They appealed to Superior Court and were convicted by a jury Wednesday of trespassing. Six were also convicted of resisting arrest.
Duke sentenced five of the seven – who had already served five days in jail after their arrest – to five days with credit for time served. The other two received suspended five-day sentences.
All were ordered not to go on Blackwater’s property again.
The seven told Duke they would not pay any fines, and none were levied.
Duke allowed the defendants to make statements during the hourlong sentencing hearing, and most did. They told the judge that they believe Blackwater enjoys legal impunity for war crimes in Iraq and that by holding an illegal protest they were following a higher law, citing the Bible and the Constitution.
“There may be no court that can prosecute these killers,” defendant Beth Brockman, of Durham, N.C., told the judge. As Christians we have an obligation to stand in solidarity with the Iraqi people.”
Duke responded at length, telling the group, “I’ve always thought that if you’re going to be a follower of Jesus or someone who appreciates the Constitution, you can’t select the portions that you like and disregard the rest.”
In particular, he cited the apostle Paul’s biblical admonition to his fellow Christians to abide by the law of man. As the judge went on, the protesters broke in several times with responses of their own.
“We’re not here about what’s happening in Iraq,” Duke told them. “We’re here about the peace and harmony of this particular community. The rule of law of this state is instituted to protect this peace and harmony. This is a place, a state, a nation, of laws – not of men.”
The judge quoted the noted Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter, who called the rule of law “all we have standing between us and the tyranny of mere will and the cruelty of unbridled, undisciplined feeling.”
“You’re kind and gentle people,” Duke told the protesters. “But the law doesn’t say treat kind and gentle people differently from those who would harm us. You’ve told me you’re not going to abide by the law. You’re not going to respect my judgment. That grieves me.”
Protester Bill Streit, of Louisa County, Va., responded: “I feel sorry that we’re grieving you. You have given us a lot of leeway, and I appreciate that.”
“Good luck,” the judge told the seven as they filed out.
Bill Sizemore, (757) 446-2276, firstname.lastname@example.org