ITHACA, N.Y. — On the verge of America's invasion of Iraq, four
left-wing Irish Catholic activists went into the vestibule of their suburban
Army recruiting center and poured vials of their blood, about four ounces each,
onto the walls, windows and American flag.
They wanted the fresh recruits, the ones they believed had been seduced
by video games and government lies, to see the blood and think about those destined
to shed it: the Iraqi people and American soldiers. They refused to leave and
prayed while they waited to be arrested.
Jesus of Nazareth inspired them, they said, as did their parents and several
well-known Vietnam-era protesters, including the brothers Daniel and Philip
In an unusual move, the protesters are now facing federal prosecution
and harsher potential penalties after a jury deadlocked in state court.
"It's a clear attempt to raise the stakes for those contemplating civil
disobedience around the country," said William P. Quigley, a law professor
at Loyola University who is a friend of the defendants and their legal adviser.
The group — which calls itself the St. Patrick's Four because
the protest took place on St. Patrick's Day in 2003 — faces charges including
damaging government property and conspiracy to impede an officer of the United
States. Their trial is set to begin Monday in federal court in Binghamton.
The case did not automatically end up in federal court. The protesters were
first charged with felony criminal mischief in Tompkins County, which includes
Lansing, the Ithaca suburb where the protest took place.
The District Attorney there, George M. Dentes, offered a plea bargain under
which members of the group would receive no jail time if they pleaded guilty
to a reduced charge. The protesters — Daniel J. Burns, 45; Clare T. Grady,
46; her sister, Teresa B. Grady, 40; and Peter J. De Mott, 58 — refused.
"Millions of people all over the world were saying the war would be a mistake
and would result in a
large loss of human life," De Mott said. "We were a part of that."
All have some experience with the workings of the criminal justice system stemming
from previous arrests. They opted to take the case to trial, acting as their
own lawyers. "They wanted a soapbox," Dentes said.
During the April 2004 trial, Tompkins County Judge John Sherman allowed the
protesters to explain their motivations, and to testify at length that they
felt compelled because of their political and religious beliefs. "The moment
I learned of that, I knew it was a hopeless case," Dentes said. "This
case was about damaging government property. It was preposterous that the trial
was not about whether they broke the law — they completely admitted they
did — but a philosophical debate about the war."
During the weeklong trial, the defendants also spoke at length about their lives.
Teresa and Clare Grady grew up going to the trials of their activist parents.
Most notably, their father, John Grady, was among the Camden 28, a group of
protesters who were acquitted of stealing and destroying draft records from
a federal building in New Jersey in 1971. The acquittal was a major victory
for antiwar protesters after five years of draft-record scuffles.
De Mott is a former Vietnam veteran and a seminary student who testified that
he was gradually moved to become an activist after he left the military.
Burns is the son of a former mayor of Binghamton, whose family was also involved
in antiwar protests.
The jury deadlocked, with nine members voting for acquittal. Dentes said he
believed that the protesters had gotten away with a crime, that the outcome
created "a system for chaos" and that the spattering of blood had
been potentially dangerous. But fearing a similar outcome if he retried the
case, he referred it to federal authorities.
If convicted, the protesters would face up to six years in prison and a $250,000
Assistant U.S. Attorney Miroslav Lovric, the prosecutor in the case, did not
return repeated phone calls for comment.
As with the state trial, the outcome in the federal case will most likely be
determined by how much leeway the judge gives the defendants to explain their
state of mind, Quigley said.