A jury in Newport found six anti-wind protesters guilty on Wednesday of trespassing on land leased by Green Mountain Power. The so-called Lowell Six got arrested last December while trying to block an access road to the site where GMP was erecting wind turbines on Lowell Mountain.
It took the jury a little less than four hours to reach the verdict State’s Attorney Sarah Baker asked for in her closing statement.
“Law enforcement acting on behalf of Green Mountain Power asked the defendants to leave the property,” Baker said. “The defendants were given the opportunity to leave the property. These defendants chose to stay on the property and be arrested.”
But whose property is it? That’s under dispute. A surveyor hired by GMP testified that the protesters were arrested on land leased to the company.
But defense attorney Kristina Michelsen produced another surveyor who drew the property line in favor of wind power project abutters Don and Shirley Nelson, who allowed the protesters on their land.
A protester testified that he had no intention of trespassing, and believed he had not crossed into GMP property. So Michelsen summed it up this way.
“But the case really is simple. As I have said, if you’re on someone else’s property and stay there after they ask you to leave, that’s trespassing,” Michelsen said. “But if the person who tells you to leave does not have the legal authority to do so and they do not have legal possession of that property, you don’t have to listen to them.”
But after highly technical testimony about property lines, the jury evidently decided Green Mountain Power’s claim to the land was solid enough to justify the arrests. State Attorney Baker had no comment. Defense attorney Michelsen said she was disappointed and surprised.
And protester Robert Holland said he thought the state was wrong to bring charges to begin with.
“I’m very disappointed in the fact that our government institutions allow property to be developed when there’s a legitimate lawsuit behind it, a legitimate property dispute,” he said.
He’s referring to pending civil litigation between the property owners which has yet to decide where the boundary line lies between the land GMP leased, and the Nelson farm where protesters claim they were arrested. A hearing could determine whether GMP gets restitution. The maximum criminal penalty is three months in jail and/or a five hundred dollar fine. Attorney Michelsen says her clients have not yet decided whether to appeal the jury’s decision.