Judge Dismisses Trespassing Charge Against Honeywell Protesters
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ A judge on Wednesday dismissed trespassing charges against the remaining 57 of 577 anti-nuclear protesters arrested in an October 1983 demonstration at the headquarters of Honeywell Inc.
Hennepin County Municipal Judge Kevin Burke dismissed the charges against six defendants who were appearing before him in connection with the October 1983 demonstration and extended the order to cover 10 other trials pending from the same demonstration, which in effect dismissed charges against the other 51.
The demonstration against Honeywell’s manufacture of nuclear weapons, was sponsored by the Honeywell Project. More than 1,100 people have been arrested in demonstrations by the anti-war group at Honeywell since November 1982.
Some defendants in the case have been convicted, including 80 in a mass trial in November; some have been acquitted, and charges against some others were dismissed earlier, but specific figures regarding the disposition of all 577 cases were not available from the court, the city attorney’s office or the Honeywell Project late Wednesday.
The dismissal resulted from a question that had come up in all the trials - whether a sign on a fence about six feet inside the Honeywell property line that advised people they would be trespassing ″beyond this point″ technically could be considered to have moved the property line temporarily. All those arrested were on the outside of the fence, but within the property line.
Assistant City Attorney William J. Korn said he asked Burke to rule on the question at the start of the trial, in which the six defendants were representing themselves without an attorney.
Burke, who consolidated the case with all the other remaining trials for purposes of the ruling, recessed the trial for about four hours to research the question before dismissing the charges.
″To the extent the defendants were tried for the crime of trespass when in legal fact they were exercising their protected First Amendment rights, all citizens lose,″ Burke said in a statement accompanying his decision.
″Courts can and will protect the rights of property owners, but each of us must recognize that in a free society, some tolerance of protected free speech is required,″ he said.
One of the six defendants in the courtroom Wednesday, Miriam Olsen, 48, of Marshall, said she was disappointed that she and the others were deprived of the opportunity to testify to the reasons for their actions.
″We feel it was a technicality that they tried desperately to find so they could get these cases out of court because they were taking a great deal of time, energy and money,″ she said. ″We wanted to go to trial. We wanted that opportunity to make our statement, which is why we pleaded not guilty.″
A Honeywell Project spokesman, Marv Davidov, said he saw support for the project’s goals in the ruling.
″Our intention is to continue the resistance as long as Honeywell management aggressively goes out after nuclear weapons contracts or contracts for conventional weapons that might be used against impoverished people in the Third World,″ Davidov said.
Telephone calls to Honeywell headquarters late Wednesday were not answered.