Six local activists who blocked access to a military conference in El Toro earlier this year in a show of opposition to U.S. defense policies were convicted Wednesday of a misdemeanor offense.
But in a partial victory for the protesters, the judge rejected the prosecutor’s pleas for a stringent punishment of fines or probation and instead ordered the protesters to each perform 10 days of community service at a local hospital.
“It’s ironic that on the 44th anniversary of the second bombing of Japan in Nagasaki each of us should be found guilty of trying to prevent that same thing from happening all over again,” said defendant Sasha Karlick, 29, of Santa Ana.
The jury in Orange County Municipal Court in Santa Ana took just 15 minutes to return the guilty verdict against the defendants for illegally blocking the roadway to El Toro Marine Corps Air Station on Jan. 31 as part of a demonstration against a military conference held annually in the area.
The jury outcome seemed all but assured, those close to the case said, when Judge Randall L. Wilkinson refused to let the protesters offer their anti-military views to jurors as a moral justification for their actions. Protesters promised to appeal the judge’s rejection of this “defense of necessity.”
Several jurors said after the verdict that they would have liked to hear why the defendants decided to block access to the military compound but doubted that the explanation would have made much of a difference in their thinking.
“There’s always a natural curiosity to find out what these people were up to, but the bottom line is that they broke the law, regardless of what their motives might have been,” said jury foreman Brian J. Wilson of Santa Ana.
The six protesters, voicing opposition to such weapons programs as the Strategic Defense Initiative, or “Star Wars,” stood in the roadways to El Toro Marine base in the path of buses and vehicles carrying delegates to the Winter Convention of Aerospace and Electronic Systems, or Wincon.
Held in Orange County since 1983, the annual conference brings together military specialists from the public and private sectors for several days of classified discussions on defense issues.
This year’s session was slowed for about 30 minutes as deputies cleared the entryways to El Toro Marine base and arrested 25 protesters who refused orders to leave the site.
The majority of those arrested reached agreements with the district attorney’s office to plead guilty or no contest in exchange for community service.
But the six in Municipal Court this week decided to fight the charge, becoming only the second group to go on trial in Orange County since the Wincon protests began locally in 1983. The first group was also convicted.
Convicted Wednesday were Karlick, Dorothy Callison of Fullerton, Len Ewers of Santa Ana, Dan Farrell of Huntington Beach, Richard Rose of Garden Grove and Patrick Yrarrazaval-Correa of Tustin.
“This is a terrible disappointment,” defendant Rose said of the guilty verdict, “but the way the trial was going, it was obviously no surprise.”
The defendants took some solace, however, in the judge’s decision to order them to perform 10 days of community service at a local hospital as punishment.
“That’s no big deal,” Callison said. “I try to do as much (community service) as I can anyway.”
Under the conviction, the defendants could have been given up to six months in jail or a $500 fine, attorneys said.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Erin Emmes, prosecuting the case, urged Wilkinson to fine the defendants and/or put them on probation to send a “message” that might deter future misconduct.
“We don’t contest that they had good intentions,” Emmes told the judge. “It’s commendable that there’s so much they want to do for us. Unfortunately, they’ve crossed the bounds of law.”
But Wilkinson, with little comment on the merits of the case, placed no restrictions on the defendants beyond the performance of community service.
In fact, several of the six said they planned to take part in a vigil scheduled for Wednesday evening outside the office of Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) to commemorate the 44th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki.
And just minutes after the guilty verdict was returned, the protesters found themselves in another legal confrontation when a lieutenant from the marshal’s office instructed them and their supporters to stop displaying peace posters outside the courtroom.
After an exchange of words and a few tense moments, the confrontation ended uneventfully and the activists took the posters down on their own.