Activists sent to prison for warplane damages

Judge ignores guidelines in sentencing Berrigan, three other defendants

March 24, 2000|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge ignored a prosecutor's suggested guidelines and imposed stiff prison sentences yesterday on longtime peace activist Philip Berrigan and three co-defendants charged with malicious destruction of Maryland Air National Guard warplanes.

"The amount of destruction in this case takes it out of the guidelines of the typical malicious destruction of property case," said Judge James T. Smith Jr.

He sentenced Berrigan, 76, to 30 months in a Department of Corrections prison on charges of conspiring with the others to damage two A-10 Warthog aircraft at the Air National Guard base in Middle River and then carrying through on the action in the pre-dawn hours on Dec. 19, 1999. They have been in jail since then.

"He went very, very far outside the guidelines in a very, very vindictive fashion," said Elizabeth McAlister, Berrigan's wife.

The Rev. Stephen Kelly, 50, a Jesuit priest from New York City, and Susan Crane, 56, a member with Berrigan of Baltimore' Jonah House community, received 27 month sentences on the conspiracy and malicious destruction charges.

An assault charge against Crane was dropped after the jury was unable to agree on a verdict after 4 1/2 hours of deliberation. She was accused of frightening an airman with a hammer she used to bang on the A-10 airplane.

Smith ordered Elizabeth Walz, 33, a Catholic Worker from Philadelphia, to serve 18 months in the Baltimore County Detention Center on the two charges. Walz asked to be sent to the county jail "where I may be of most service the women around me." Through Attorney Anabel Dwyer, she said conditions at the jail were deplorable.

The judge reduced the sentences by the amount of time served.

The judge also ordered the defendants to share in paying $88,622.11, which the air guard said repairs cost. He imposed a cash bail of $90,000 each, "to be paid by the defendants only."

"I believe it's harsh and unusual punishment," said Sister Carol Gilbert, another Jonah House community member who has been at the trial every moment since it began Monday. "I think the judge's prejudices are coming through. These people were not allowed a defense."

None of the defendants were in court today when the nine women and three men of the jury returned their guilty verdicts. They have declined to participate since a courtroom ruckus Wednesday when a red-faced Smith cleared the courtroom as partisans of the defendants began singing and chanting. They neither allowed their attorneys to present any further defense nor make closing statements on their behalf.

The defendants had hoped to offer evidence that A-10s are armed with radioactive depleted uranium weapons that have devastating environmental and health effects that last for thousands of years.

McAlister, standing outside a prayer circle in the courthouse plaza, said, "What the defendants said in their relationship to this court is, `Go ahead and do your worst. And the court did -- and then some.

"They wounded the beast and it reacted," she said.

Dwyer, an international lawyer advising Walz who intended to act as her own lawyer, called the sentences "barbaric."

Assistant State's Attorney Mickey Norman, who had offered the judge much more modest sentencing guidelines -- ranging from probation to a year in jail -- said he thought the sentences "reasonable, because of the nature of the crime committed and factoring of prior crimes, if any."

All of the defendants except Walz are on federal probation from earlier anti-nuclear actions against military targets. Norman said Berrigan had a record extending back to when the Catonsville Nine burned draft records, one of the first major anti-war protests in the Vietnam era.

"Which was technically a robbery," Norman said.

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