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Jury finds Earth First! activists guilty

FARMINGTON – A Franklin County justice sentenced two Earth First! protesters Tuesday to 10 days in jail and ordered each to pay a $500 fine for failing to disperse near a wind farm development site in Kibby Township last summer.

It took 12 jurors in Franklin County Superior Court about five minutes to return guilty verdicts against Willow Cordes-Eklund, 27, of Minneapolis, Minn., and Erik Gillard, 27, of Montpelier, Vt.

Justice Michaela Murphy said before pronouncing the sentences that the defendants crossed the line when they targeted a private citizen. A conviction on the charge carries a sentence of up to 364 days in jail.

Cordes-Eklund and Gillard were two of dozens of people protesting TransCanada’s 44-wind turbine project atop mountains in Kibby Township and the potential development of adjacent Sisk Mountain in northern Franklin County on July 6, 2010.

The protest started at Gold Brook Road, the private road that leads to the wind mill sites off Route 27. State police issued an order to disperse and to stay off the highway, according to troopers’ testimony Monday. The crowd dispersed and moved down the road about 2 miles, the troopers said.

Protesters began walking down the middle of the road to stop a convoy that included two state police cruisers and a truck carrying a 144-foot wind turbine blade to Kibby Mountain, troopers said at the two-day trial.

Cordes-Eklund chained herself by the neck to the undercarriage of the truck and Gillard stepped up on the running board of the driver’s side of the truck. Police say he tried to reach inside to take control of the vehicle after a U.S. Border Patrol agent told him to stop.

Both sides rested their cases Monday after a day of testimony.

Failure to disperse contemplates group action, Assistant District Attorney James Andrews said during his closing argument to jurors.

“We certainly had group action here,” Andrews said. “There were multiple incidents progressing to a particular result.”

It was a premeditated group effort to blockade the only paved road in that section of Franklin County, he said.

Both defendants made the decision to step over the line, he said.

Gillard’s lawyer, Lynne Williams, said the defendants did not fail to disperse, as charged.

“Merely saying ‘stop’ is not an order to disperse,” she said in her closing argument. It’s not to say the two didn’t break the law, she said, but they didn’t fail to disperse.

Gillard did leave the first site when the order was given, she said.

Cordes-Eklund’s lawyer, Phil Worden, also argued that his client was not guilty of failing to disperse.

“It may be that Willow had no right to chain herself to a truck,” he said. “The right charge isn’t failure to disperse.”

After the verdicts, Assistant DA Andrews asked that the defendants each be assessed a $500 fine or 100 hours of community service in Maine.

Defense lawyers Worden and Williams requested sentences of 75 hours of community service.

Murphy rejected both requests and imposed jail sentences, saying the defendants targeted a private citizen working to make a living.

“If it was not for the professionalism of the officers, this could have turned into a very dangerous situation,” she said.

She ordered Cordes-Eklund to report to jail on Aug. 25 because her lawyer had requested a stay of execution.

Gillard began his sentence after the hearing.