Pilgrim trespass suspects cite moral duty

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March 19, 2014

PLYMOUTH — The Cape protesters on trial in Plymouth District Court on Tuesday for trespassing onto Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station last spring said they had a moral responsibility to break the law because shuttering the 42-year-old plant is in the public’s best interest.

During her opening statement, Harwich resident Diane Turco, co-founder of the Cape Downwinders and one of a dozen defendants, said she hoped for a verdict of not guilty.

"In the best American tradition, we acted on a moral imperative with civic responsibility," Turco said.

The Downwinders have been looking forward to this week’s trial. Several have been arrested in the past for trespassing, but the charges were always dismissed before they had their day in court.

"I’m glad we’re finally here," said Falmouth defendant Joyce Johnson during a break. "It’s been a long time coming. We’re just trying to make our part of the world safe."

The Downwinders opted Tuesday for a bench trial before Judge Beverly Cannone, a decision made late Monday night. Cannone had agreed last week to give the group their trial, saying there was basis for a necessity defense.

Such a defense focuses on whether breaking the law is the only way to accomplish an intended result after other avenues have been tried.

"These are 12 people engaged in an act of conscience, faced with what they perceived to be a danger to themselves, the people of Plymouth and residents of the Cape," said Boston attorney Jeffrey Feuer in his opening statement.

Feuer, who specializes in citizens rights cases, is one of five attorneys representing the trespassers free of charge.

"They didn’t go there to commit a crime," Feuer said. "They were there to stop a crime."

Some of those on trial Tuesday had trespassed in March 2013, walking onto the nuclear plant property with placards until they were stopped by security guards and local police. The remainder were arrested for trespassing in May 2013. The group said they were walking onto the property to deliver a letter outlining their concerns to plant officials.

Turco and fellow Downwinder member Douglas Long, of Orleans, opted to defend themselves during the trial so they would have the opportunity to give opening and closing arguments and question witnesses.

While the Downwinders were serious about the intent for their trespassing offense, there was a congenial atmosphere in court and several moments of levity.

Plymouth police Officer Paul Caraher, when testifying about the scene he found when he arrived at the plant last March, said he saw "15 to 20 individuals" about a quarter mile down the access road.

"They were older," Caraher said when asked to describe the group. That brought a chuckle from the defendants who are predominantly in their late 60s and 70s.

"Well, they were older than me," Caraher was quick to add.

And when Harwich defendant Elaine Dickinson took the witness stand, Cannone asked her to stand so her fellow defendants could hear her better.

"She is standing," another defendant informed the judge.

When questioned, Dickinson called the trespassing transgression "an act of conscience."

"I hoped the action would ultimately lead to closing the plant," she said.

All speakers were instructed to project their voices so they would be heard. Whenever the volume needed to be increased, attorney Bruce Taub, another of the defense team, would signal by waving his arms vigorously in the air.

Plymouth County prosecutor Sean Killam quickly established the defendants had trespassed — a point the other side wasn’t arguing.

Over the next three days, the defense will establish intent. A parade of experts has agreed to testify about health and safety issues related to the Plymouth plant and to examine the long history of civil disobedience taken to prompt social change.

On the list of Wednesday’s speakers are epidemiologist Richard Clapp, who has studied cancer risks related to Plymouth, and Duxbury Fire Chief Kevin Nord, who will discuss the lack of evacuation plans. Gordon Thompson — an expert in the fields of energy, environment and security — will talk about safety issues on Thursday.

On Friday, Stephen Nathanson, a professor at Northeastern University, will focus on social change. The defense will wrap up with state Sen. Daniel Wolf, D-Harwich, a longtime Pilgrim opponent.

Expert witnesses have offered their services free of charge, even declining to have their expenses covered, Turco said.

Other defendants are Margaret Rice-Moir of Brewster, Janet Azarowitz and William Maurer of Falmouth, Femke Rosenbaum of Wellfleet, Sarah Thacher and Susan Carpenter of Dennis, Mike Risch of Falmouth and Paul Rifkin of Cotuit.

Placard-toting Downwinders didn’t waste a prime opportunity to stir up a little public awareness Tuesday, enduring the early morning chill to demonstrate in front of the courthouse before proceedings began.

via Pilgrim trespass suspects cite moral duty | CapeCodOnline.com.

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