A jury returned a verdict of not guilty Thursday afternoon in the trespassing case against five Occupy Seattle protesters who chained themselves together inside a Capitol Hill Chase bank in November.
Danielle Simmons, Sarah Svobodny, Liam Wright, Michael Stevens, and Hudson Williams-Eynon were found not guilty by the three-man, three-woman jury after a three-day trial.
Attorneys Braden Pence and David Douglas Hancock successfully argued that the “Chase 5″ had carefully planned their effort and believed that they were on property that should be considered public during what Pence called in his opening statement the group’s “intentional actions” of protest. Judge Edward McKenna presided over the case presented by city prosecutor Marc Mayo.
On Wednesday, the issue of jury nullification was raised during testimony by the defendants and discussed in a sidebar session with the judge and attorneys. Jury nullification refers to a jury’s decision to acquit even though jurors believe that a defendant may have violated the law. UPDATE: Pence tells us the sidebar came after some testimony ranged into political terrain and the judge became concerned about possible nullification issues. The judge instructed the jury that their decision should be based solely in the law and not emotions or political beliefs in standard remarks presented at the start and the end of municipal court trials.
The legal process related to Occupy’s activities on Capitol Hill will continue as the case against the 16 people arrested for trespassing inside the 10th/Union warehouse will re-start with a pre-trial hearing in April.
UPDATE 3/16/12 9:00a:
We talked briefly with Pence Friday morning about the verdict. He credited the defendants with making the case an easy one to defend.
“I think we had really outstanding clients, really thoughtful,” Pence said. “In their act of civil disobedience they were really intentional in taking into consideration the safety of everybody else including Chase employees.”
Pence said he and co-counsel Hancock were also able to raise question about the way in which Chase attempted to trespass the five. Beyond the technicality, Pence said the jury seemed most swayed by the fact that the Chase 5 believed what they were doing was just even if they would be arrested. He also said that a jury of peers helped.
“We’re in Seattle,” Pence said. “This could look real different if we were in Everett.”
Below is a statement sent out by the defendants:
Thursday, March 15th, five occupiers who shut down a Chase Bank in the city of Seattle on November 2nd of 2011 heard their verdict: Not Guilty. When the unanimous decision by the jury of six was announced today the shock, and elation, of the five occupiers and their supporters swept the room. “This sets a totally new precedent,” said one young woman.
The verdict was read at 4:15 of the third day of trial, having come after days of argument, examination of witnesses and cross examination. The City, having brought the charges, put the manager of the Chase Bank branch on the stand as well as three members of the Seattle Police Department. One had been working as private security for Chase Bank that day while wearing a police uniform.
Danielle Simmons, one of the defendants, after trial said, “I am in shock. The jury decided that our actions were justified and whether this is because they thought it was somehow lawful or just the right thing to do, something is changing, and I think it’s beautiful.”
On the day of November 2nd the five, now innocent occupiers, chained themselves together inside of the Chase bank using what is commonly known as a “lockbox.” When a march of about 200 arrived the branch was finally locked down and customers were informed that they should leave. The branch remained closed for the rest of the day.
“This is a huge victory for the Occupy Movement,” added Liam Wright, another defendant. “Every step of the way this bank occupation and the follow up has been more successful than we could have ever hoped for. We wanted to make clear to everyone that we don’t want a world defined by banks, we don’t want to live under them. We want to be human beings living together, free from the dead weight of financial profiteering.”
Liam Wright concluded, “They act like we will live under the rule of banks and money forever. But they can’t stop us. They can’t jail us.”
One of the occupiers, Michael Stevens said, “Right now the American political and corporate establishment is headed for another election. If anything, candidates might disagree about how much they want to limit birth control or how long the military should put off bombing Iran. This is so horrifying it’s ludicrous. Meanwhile, we are determined to end the rule of banks and billionaires — over us and over this whole planet. This doesn’t even appear on the radar of ‘official politics,’ yet millions agree with us.”