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Lowell wind protesters to select juries in June

NEWPORT CITY – The six Lowell wind protesters accused of trespassing on land controlled by Green Mountain Power are set to pick juries June 21.

The protesters were arrested Dec. 5 after they hiked to the Lowell wind site and blockaded the crane path for hours.

During a calendar call in Orleans Superior Court-Criminal Division Wednesday morning, Hardwick attorney Kristina Michelsen said, “It is our intention that these cases, represented by me, will be tried together.”

Michelsen will represent David Rodgers, 69, of Craftsbury, a mason and writer; Ryan Gillard, 23, of Plainfield, a mentor at EarthWalk Vermont; Suzanna Jones, 50, of East Hardwick, a farmer; Anne Morse, 48, of Craftsbury Common, a member of the Sterling College faculty; and Robert Holland, 67, of Irasburg, a doctor at North Country Hospital.

Defendant Eric Wallace-Senft, 46, of Woodbury, who is self-employed in maple sugaring and home maintenance, will represent himself at trial. His case will not be tried with the other defendants.

Arrested the same day was Christopher Braithwaite, 68, of West Glover, publisher of the Chronicle, a weekly newspaper based in Barton. He is represented by attorney Phil White.

The court denied Braithwaite’s motion to dismiss. White argued unsuccessfully that Braithwaite was at the site as an unbiased reporter.

In the dismissal, Judge Robert Gerety Jr. wrote, “The court concludes that there is no legal authority for the proposition that the defendant as a member of the press enjoyed a privilege to trespass on private property under the circumstances presented in this case.”

If convicted, the protesters face no more than three months in prison, a $500 fine, or both.

Michelsen said she will withdraw her motion to depose the state’s witnesses and is ready to go to trial.

“Their witnesses aren’t talking to us,” she said.

In the motion, Michelsen asked to depose Dave Coriell, an employee of GMP, as well as law enforcement personnel at the site at the time of arrest.

She wrote that despite leaving voice mail messages for those witnesses, she received no response.

“The defense intends to contest that the land they were located on was land legally controlled by Green Mountain Power. In order to assess and present this defense, the Defendants need to interview the State’s witnesses,” Michelsen wrote.

Michelsen asked if pre-trial conferences and jury selection could be moved up to May.

“On behalf of our office, that is asking a lot,” Deputy State’s Attorney Jim Lillicrap said.

He added that the deputy state’s attorney prosecuting the cases, Sarah Baker, might not want them tried together.

Coriell wrote in his statement to police that the protesters arrived about 8:40 a.m. and refused to leave until Orleans County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at 11:40 a.m. to arrest them.

Seven out of nine were arrested, according to his statement, after two consented to leaving the area.

In his affidavits, deputy Dan Locke wrote that GMP asked the deputies to arrest people trespassing on “their” land.

Chief Deputy Phil Brooks, deputy Kyle Ingalls, Vermont State Police Detective Darren Annis and Locke made the arrests.

The protesters, who lacked proper safety equipment and training to be on a construction site, blocked traffic on crane path, Coriell wrote.

Contractor J.A. McDonald bulldozed a path around protesters so some traffic could get through, but trucks hauling rocks were not able to move due to safety concerns, Coriell wrote.

Don and Shirley Nelson say the land in question belongs to them, and they are seeking control of that land in civil court.

As far as the court is concerned, the land is owned by Moose Mountain Forestry, a company owned by Trip Wileman and his family.

In a recent e-mail, Wileman said the company secured legal counsel, Claudine Safar of Monaghan, Safar, Dwight, because the Nelsons have threatened to sue.

At a status conference March 14 in the county’s civil court, Judge Martin Maley said he’d inadvertently heard negative comments about his decision to issue a preliminary injunction while attending a confirmation hearing Jan. 27 in the Senate Judicial Committee.

“It sort of dawned on the court that this was still a pending matter,” he said.

The comments could be considered ex parte communication, he said, although it was nothing the court didn’t already know.

With the boundary issue remaining, Maley wanted to be transparent with all parties in case they have concerns about him continuing to hear the case.

Attorneys Jeffrey Behm for GMP and Scott McGee for the Nelsons agreed that they had no problem with it. McGee said he trusted that the judge wouldn’t use the comments against his clients.

The case looks like it will go to trial. “It doesn’t appear we’re going to settle it,” Behm said.