BANGOR, Maine – Charges have been dropped against five protesters arrested on Nov. 8 for blocking the access road and refusing to allow construction vehicles to pass at the $130 million Rollins Mountain wind project in Lincoln.
The road was more than 100 yards inside the property owned by a subsidiary of Massachusetts-based First Wind, which is in the process of setting 40 turbines, each generating 1½ megawatts, on ridgelines in Burlington, Lincoln, Lee and Winn.
Leonard Murphy, 59, of Woodville; James Freeman, 62; Donald Smith, 82, of Lincoln; John Waters, 49, of Greene; and Jessica Dowling, 29, of Thorndike each were charged with criminal trespass, taken to the Penobscot County Jail and released on personal recognizance bail.
More than 20 people attended the rain-soaked protest last fall, but only the five who were arrested blocked the access road, according to previously published reports.
Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy on Thursday – two days before jury selection was to take place for the protesters’ trial – filed a motion to dismiss the charges, which was granted.
“[Murphy] as well as the co-defendants have made it clear that they intend to use the court process for the purpose of political speech and protest,” the motion said. “The state feels that employing the court process for this purpose would be an unwise use of public funds and unfair to victims of other criminal cases awaiting trial, especially child abuse and spousal matters.”
On Tuesday, the protesters issued a press release announcing that the charges against them had been dropped.
“First Wind was afraid the truth would come out,” Smith, who lives near where the windmills are being built, said in the release.
“Today is a vindication of the integral role of civil disobedience in our defense of First Amendment rights and a sign to all those who see injustice to speak out and make their voices heard,”Jessie Dowling of Monroe said in the release.
Almy made a similar decision a year ago when he dismissed charges of criminal trespass and disorderly conduct against Megan Gilmartin, 26, of Corinth; Emily Posner, 29, of Montville; Ryan Clarke, 28, of Corinth; and Dowling and Freeman.
They were arrested along with Christian Neils, 33, of Appleton on Sept. 23, 2009, at the Ramada Inn on Odlin Road just as commissioners were preparing to approve Plum Creek’s controversial housing and resort plan for the Moosehead Lake region.
When the prosecutor announced last year that charges were being dropped against all but one of the LURC protesters, Almy expressed concern over a precedent set in April 2008 when Freeman and five others were found not guilty by a Penobscot County jury of criminal trespass at the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building in a March 2007 anti-war protest.
“The last time the District Attorney’s Office prosecuted a civil disobedience jury trial, the presiding judge gave legal instruction to the jury, which, with all due respect to the court, our office believed to be faulty,” Almy said a year ago. “These jury instructions made conviction highly unlikely, and our office is uncertain as to what jury instructions would be in the present cases.”
Defendants but not prosecutors may appeal a jury’s verdict.
The case against Neils, who was charged with criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, refusing to submit to arrest, and carrying a concealed weapon, a knife, went forward. A jury on May 19, 2010, found him not guilty of carrying a concealed weapon but guilty of the other charges.
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