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Once Again, a Skagit County Jury Refuses to Convict Climate Activists

Valve Turners celebrate after being acquitted by a Skagit County Jury

Mt. Vernon, WA
For Immediate Release: Once Again, a Skagit County Jury Refuses to Convict Climate Activists

On Friday, for second time in less than 3 months, a Skagit County jury refused to convict climate activists of a crime that they openly admitted to. The six defendants had blockaded the train tracks into the Anacortes refineries for 36 hours as part of the global Break Free from Fossil Fuels mobilization in May 2016; they were charged with criminal trespass in the second degree.

Though they were tried in a refinery community, the defendants apparently succeeded in persuading at least two members of the jury that the urgency of climate change necessitated their taking action by putting themselves on the line and blocking the scheduled trains of fracked Bakken oil.

“The hung jury was a powerful vindication of the moral case for our work,” said defendant Ben Joldersma, the Chief Technology Officer of TheMaven in Seattle. “It felt so good to get on the stand and have a chance to testify about my decision to block the flow of oil into the Anacortes refineries–oil that is destroying my kids’ chance for a stable future.”

This case follows the early February trial and hung jury of Ken Ward, who turned off a tar sands pipeline in Burlington, WA. It was the fifth of seven trials for the Break Free blockade.

The six defendants (Scott Yoos, Claudia Kleinholz, Keith Ervin, Michelle Fry, Ben Joldersma, and Todd Davison) will be retried on May 2–an unusual decision, as lawyer Lauren Regan pointed out. “It’s virtually unheard of for a state’s attorney’s office to retry a nonviolent misdemeanor civil disobedience case–especially when the state has already received its ‘pound of flesh’ by convicting others engaged in the same action. The Prosecuting Attorney’s office appears to have questionable priorities regarding the safety of the local community.”

Former Seattle Times reporter Keith Ervin was also a defendant. “”My first grandchild was born the year after I retired from a  career in journalism. I learned what I could about climate change, auditing a University of Washington class on the subject. What I learned showed me we have to act now, and that’s why I took part in the Break Free blockade. I did it for the future of my children and my grandson Mateo. We’ve seen a huge increase in global temperatures due to our reckless use of fossil fuels–and the results will be catastrophic unless we rapidly curtail our carbon emissions.”

Despite the inconvenience and surprise of the re-trial, the defendants are elated by today’s events. “The writing is on the wall,” Joldersma said. “People are worried, and know that not nearly enough is being done. As long as our fates are decided by our peers, this will happen with ever-increasing frequency. It’s simple–people want to protect their kids and their communities.”

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