Susan and Plowshares
vs. Depleted Uranium

March 21 - 22, 2000

Liz McAllister of Jonah House prodded the following articles; The first is a story that appeared in the 3/23/00 Baltimore Sun. The second article at the bottom of this page discusses the sentencing.

Judge clears court after Berrigan, co-defendants stage demonstration

By Carl Schoettler
For the Baltimore, Sun

I share 2 things with you: 1. the story that appeared in this morning's Baltimore Sun on the day in court yesterday. 2. the sentencing (which none of us anticipated would occur today) of the 4 plowshares

A Baltimore County Circuit judge cleared his courtroom yesterday when Philip F. Berrigan and three co-defendants sparked a singing, chanting demonstration during their trial on charges of trespassing and damaging A-10 Warthog aircraft at the Essex Air National Guard Base.

Berrigan, 76, of Baltimore; the Rev. Stephen Kelly, 50, a Jesuit priest from New York City; Susan Crane, 56, a member of Berrigan's Jonah House community; and Elizabeth Walz, 33, founder of a Catholic Worker house in Philadelphia, then refused to participate further in the trial.

"We will not continue in what amounts to a legal railroad," Crane said.

The courtroom disruptions began after the noon break, when Judge James T. Smith repeatedly sustained Assistant State's Attorney Mickey Norman's objections to testimony by Doug Rokke, an expert in the use and harmful effects of depleted uranium weapons.

The defendants are accused of damaging the fuselages, landing gear and engine cowls of two aircraft at the National Guard air base.

They said their actions were based on their belief that depleted uranium is radioactive and pollutes the earth and atmosphere and causes severe health problems that last for generations. Monday, the judge denied their request for expert testimony that they said was crucial to their defense.

Crane, who was the first defense witness, stood up and read from a prepared statement on a yellow legal sheet."We cannot put on a defense about the dangers of depleted uranium and our rights and duties under international law," she said. The judge ordered her to be silent. But she persisted.

"We have been denied our right to testify about these topics," she said. "We have been denied our expert witnesses. Therefore, we can't go forward. We will not participate in what amounts to a legal gag order."

Her words were all but lost in cries of "I drove the van" that rose from among some 100 spectators who had, until then, been quiet. Earlier, Crane had refused to say how the defendants got to the Dec. 20 action, even when ordered to testify by Smith.

Kelly rose and recited the Catholic scripture for the day from the prophet Jeremiah. The audience began singing: "Courage, sister. Courage, brother."

Smith demanded an end to the outbursts.

"If you cannot control yourselves over how deeply you feel about the system," the judge said, "you must leave this courtroom." When the singing continued, Smith ordered sheriff's deputies to clear the defendants' supporters from the court and then from the courthouse. They sat in a silent vigil in the plaza before the main entrance. The defendants left the court.

The judge ordered a recess, and the jury filed out.

Only Berrigan, who had been defending himself, returned after the recess. In a brief statement, he said: "The courts are identified with the Pentagon and the government. There is no way nonviolent defendants can get a serious hearing in this or any other courtroom. That is my experience over the years in several dozen courts."

Defense attorneys Ramsey Clark, a former U.S. attorney general, and Jonathan L. Katz of Silver Spring said their clients instructed them not to participate further in the trial. Walz, who is defending herself, also refused to participate.

Smith called the jury back, explained the situation to the jurors and then adjourned the court until 10 a.m. today.

********** END OF THE BALTIMORE SUN ARTICLE ***************

Notes from supporters who witnessed the trial:


Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge James T. Smith Jr. sealed the fate of the Plowshares when he granted the prosecution's motion for a gag order. The defendants would not be permitted to explain why they disarmed the planes, nor to call expert witnesses. So as the trial began on March 20 in circuit court in Towson, Maryland, the only issues of contention were the assault charge against Susan Crane and the severity of the sentences handed out.

The defendants elected to stay locked up and did not appear in court today. No closing statement was presented by the defense. After Assistant State's Attorney Mickey Norman made his closing statement, which included what might be called a verbal rape of Susan's character, the case was in the hands of the jury.

After 4 hours, the jury could not agree on the assault charge. So a mistrial was declared on that charge, and the prosecutor chose not to re-try that case. The four were convicted of malicious destruction of property-with a property damage of more than $300 and conspiracy to maliciously destroy property. Judge Smith meted out the following sentences. Each defendant was expected to pay restitution of $88, 622.11, and should they want to be released pending appeal, each one would have to post $90,000 cash bail. All were given prison sentences: Liz Walz (whose guidelines were 0 to 1 month) was given 18 months, Susan Crane and Steve Kelly (whose guidelines were 2 - 9 months) were sentenced to 27 months, and Phil Berrigan (whose guidelines were 6 - 12 months) was meted the sentence of 30 months.

We were disturbed by the prosecutor's closing statement. "The defendants have used you. One of the few things Jonathan Katz [defense attorney] said that was right,Being misguided is not a crime. You can hate them if you like, as they damaged $88,622.11 of tax-payer money. If you do not convict them, that would make you as bad as them." In impugning Susan, he said: "She deceived even himBishop Thomas Gumbleton, her character witness." In a jab at the Plowshares supporters, he said "They tried to infect you during their demonstrations."

Prior to sentencing, Walz sent a note from jail. She asked to stay in the Baltimore County Detention Center so that she could serve the women there. A transfer to the Department of Corrections would be an upgrade in regard to services available. So Smith acquiesced to her request. The others will be sent to a Maryland Department of Corrections facility. We will keep you au courant on addresses as we receive them.

Philip Berrigan, Susan Crane and Steve Kelly were on federal probation for a previous Plowshares disarmament, so that matter will be taken up after they serve their Maryland sentences .

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