Peace Activists Convicted In Protest Against War Research

Trespass At Hopkins Lab Wins Light Sentence For Berrigan Trio

May 26, 1991|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff writer

Despite passionate arguments that their illegal actions resulted from "divine obedience," longtime peace activist Philip F. Berrigan and two of his colleagues were found guilty by a district court judge Thursday of trespassing and destroying property at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab during a protest there in July.

Berrigan, Sister Margaret McKenna and Max Obuszewski admitted that they entered the lab July 16, ignored warnings from security staff and proceeded to the office of lab director Carl Bostrom, where they poured human blood onthe door to protest the lab's development of weapons systems.

District Judge Louis A. Becker imposed a one-day jail term for the three activists but suspended the sentence and waived court costs and fines, which could have totaled $1,025 for each defendant. The three also faced five months in jail for both charges.

"I would say that he (Becker) fought to get us off," said Berrigan, 67, a leader inthe peace movement since the Vietnam War.

"We don't really consider ourselves guilty, but we think the judge had a lot of good will," said McKenna, 60, a member of the Medical Mission Sisters in Philadelphia.

Berrigan and Obuszewski, 45, of Baltimore, work with the Baltimore Emergency Response Network, a group providing services to the homeless and others in need. Both men said they had previously been convicted three times of trespassing at the physics lab.

"They werefound guilty; that's what was important," said Assistant State's Attorney Tracy Gilmore, who prosecuted the case. "I feel like I won the battle but lost the war."

Officials at the lab issued a statement saying the lab "supports the process through which matters such as this can find resolution through the judicial system."

The three activists said they staged their protest from a moral obligation to denounce the lab's involvement in weapons research. They said its development of weapons violates international law.

The most recent figures available indicate the lab was awarded $418 million in military contracts in 1988, Obuszewski said. The lab also was involved in the development of Tomahawk and Patriot missiles used in the Persian Gulf war, he said.

"We poured our own blood there because APL is involvedin very bloody work," Berrigan testified.

The activists said theydecided to make a powerful statement after trying unsuccessfully to get an appointment with Bostrom.

At about 8 a.m. July 16, the group entered his office, posted a statement indicting the lab's work, and poured blood on the door.

Court records show that security guards at the lab repeatedly told the protesters to leave the building. They said they witnessed Obuszewski pouring blood from a baby's bottle onto the door. The guards also said there was an empty baby's bottle in the director's office and blood stains on the carpet, curtains andsofa.

McKenna read from the Bible on the witness stand and said she accepted full responsibility for her actions.

"I had an opportunity to not stand idly by," she said. "I'm trying to be a good citizen to this world and this country and be faithful to my God."

Becker said he understood the protest to be a "symbolic gesture." However,he said, his job was to decide if Maryland laws had been broken.

"Despite all the moral arguments, good intentions and motivations on the part of all of them, I am convinced that the requisite criminal intent did occur," he said.

Becker also criticized the activists for using human blood in their protest "in today's AIDS-conscious society."

One of the security guards who said he restrained Obuszewski requested that the blood be tested for the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS. The blood was found to be not contaminated.

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