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Central America

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Agenda Publications
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ANN ARBOR- On March 11, 2nd Congrcssional District Representative Cari Pursell reversed his position and voted against continued aid to the contras. For the activist community of Ann Arbor, this representó a significant victory. Several protests over Congressman Pursell's voting patterns regarding Central American issues have taken place over the past few years. Perhaps the most memorable of these events was the four day protest in March of 1986, during which 118 people were arrested when they refused to leave Pursell's office. This protest occurred just prior to the vote in Congress for $100 million in military aid to the contras. The recent trial of the Pursell 118 took place on February 12 and 13, at the end of which the jury delivered a verdict of "guilty." Defendants were disappointed in the verdict but theTe was general agreement that the trial, as well as the arrests, had been successful in focusing public attention on the issue of U.S. intervention in Central America. Most of the 118 entered a plea of "not guilty," claiming that it was not only their right, but their responsiblity to remain at Pursell's door. The council for the defense sought to use the "necessity defense" in court, which states that a minor infraction was committed in order to prevent a greater harm from occurring, and was thus justified. However, at a January, 1987 pre-trial hearing, Judge Alexander ruled that the necessity defense would not be admissable in court. The defendants attempted to appeal this ruling, but the Circuit Court refused to accept this appeal before trial. The defense therefore built its case on the theory that the protesters had lawful authority to remain in the building, had no criminal intent, and thus had not broken the law. Judge Alexander carefully and repeatedly instructed the jury that the context of the case (meaning the upcoming contra aid vote and Pursell's broken promise of a public meeting) was irrelevant. Several times, however, these matters were brought up in court and escaped the judge's censoring. For approximately 90 minutes, as part of the prosecution's case, the videotape that was made during the arrests, was shown. During this time, the jurors heard the protestors express the reasons why they had come to speak with Pursell and why they were intent on remaining. Despite the best efforts of the defendants and attorneys Molly Reno, Nancy Francis, and Eric Lipson, the jury delivered the verdict: guilty as charged. The sentence is identical to that of people who accepted the prosecutor's offer of dismissal before the trial: a choice of paying $40, doing 20 hours of community service, or doing one 8-hour shift at the Shelter for the Homeless. There will be no criminal record for the defendants. Several of the demonstrators are appealing the judge's ruling. If such an appeal is successful, the guilty verdicts will be overtumed and the defendants will be able to present a necessity defense in a new trial. A successful appeal would establish an important precedent in Michigan for politica! trials. In other States, where necessity defenses have been allowed, pretesters have been acquitted in cases very similar to this one. On-going protests have been occurring weekly since the beginning of this year. They take place on Thursdays at 4:30 pm at the Federal Building. These weekly protests have served both to maintain a high level of awareness of the war and to strengthen the coalition of groups working for peace and justice in Central America.


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