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Draft Resister Exhausts Appeal : Sasway Begins Serving 2 1/2-Year Prison Term

Times Staff Writer

After three years of fighting draft registration through federal courts and the national media, Benjamin Sasway surrendered in San Diego on Monday morning to begin a 30-month prison sentence.

In stark contrast to his lengthy appeals battle, which ended April 1 with the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to hear further arguments in his case, Sasway’s appearance in U.S. District Court was over in a matter of minutes. Dressed in a jacket, tie and blue jeans, Sasway, the first man indicted for draft registration resistance since the Vietnam War era, laconically accepted the imposition of his sentence.

“I have nothing to say at this point,” Sasway, 24, told Judge Gordon Thompson Jr., who had originally sentenced the Vista native in October, 1982. Thompson, who ordered Sasway jailed immediately after his conviction, remanded him to the Metropolitan Correctional Center. Sasway had been free since his original sentencing, pending appeal.

“You ought to know that as a district judge, I have an obligation to uphold the law,” Thompson told Sasway. “Your obligation is to obey the law. You have voluntarily chosen to disobey the law, and you have continued to encourage others to do so.”

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With that, Sasway, a student at Humboldt State University in Arcata, was led out of the courtroom to the cheers of about 20 supporters. More than 100 demonstrators followed Sasway from an early-morning press conference at the Army induction center on Fifth Avenue to the steps of the federal courthouse on Broadway, where he made his final public comments before returning to jail.

“I’m going in now, and I may not come out for a while, but I’m going to be remembering this kind of demonstration and others like it that have happened in the last five years,” he said. “It’s been a long five years. It has not at all been easy, but it’s been worth it.”

Defense attorney Charles T. Bumer said that Sasway, who was designated a “low level” offender at the time of his sentencing, could be released at any time but will probably serve about six months at a federal prison camp.

“The Bureau of Prisons could turn around and release him today, though they obviously won’t,” Bumer said. “I remember that when Ben first made his decision in this, he expected that the consequences might be five hard years in federal prison.”

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Bumer said Sasway could still file a motion to delay the sentence but that to do so would be “an exercise in futility.”

Sasway, whose family has supported him throughout his legal battle, was accompanied by his parents, Joseph and Delores Sasway; his grandmother, Jean Sasway, and his girlfriend, Laurel Linstedt. Joseph Sasway said his son had resigned himself to going to prison.

“We were very much prepared for what happened,” the elder Sasway said. “When you commit an act of civil disobedience, which he did, then you must be absolutely willing to pay the price. It is a statement for freedom and peace, and he feels very strongly about it. It’s an action he really needs to pay the consequences for, and he’s willing to do that.”

At his press conference, Sasway responded to claims that he had spent the last three years fighting a phantom because federal authorities have given no indication that the draft will be revived anytime in the foreseeable future.

“A lot of people have accused me of not really being a draft resister,” he said. “It seems to me that it makes a lot more sense to resist the draft before it’s here than to resist the draft halfway through, after thousands of people have died.”


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