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News Blog

DeChristopher Trial: Day 1 wrap-up

by Jesse Fruhwirth
- Posted // 2011-02-28 -

Supporters have high hopes for "Bidder 70," Tim DeChristopher. Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary compares "Bidder 70" to Rosa Parks. Ken Sleight, a friend and contemporary of Edward Abbey, says "Bidder 70" is carrying on Abbey's legacy.

Prosecutors, though, call "Bidder 70" Tim DeChristopher a bogus bidder who posed as a legitimate bidder in a federal lease auction in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration with the intent to defraud the government. DeChristopher admits to bidding on several leases and there's no dispute that he offered the winning bid on 11 parcels amounting to dozens of acres of southern Utah public lands, some of it adjacent to Arches National Park.

Attorneys on the case completed the slow process of selecting a 12-person jury from a pool that began as 70. Questioning of the potential jurors was done behind closed doors.

As such, most of the action today was outside the court house in a rally of solidarity on Salt Lake City's Exchange Place across the street from the courthouse. Later in the afternoon, about 100 ralliers moved the singing and chanting to the sidewalk just in front of the Frank E. Moss Federal Court House on Salt Lake's Main Street (pictured). At 8:30 a.m., in chilly temperatures and gusty winds, the rally began at Pioneer Park before hundreds of demonstrators marched through the city's streets to the courthouse.

On Exchange Place, Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary with daughter Bethany Yarrow led the ralliers in a version of the classic "If I had a Hammer," substituting some lyrics to express support for DeChristopher. Listen here:

After his set on stage, Yarrow talked to City Weekly about DeChristopher's action and climate change.

"[DeChristopher] is here for the same reason that people committed acts of civil disobedience in the civil rights movement," Yarrow said. "If he does not do this, he does not lead the way for us to stand up and stop the desecration of our country, of nature, of the planet. The destruction of it that leads us to a place where scientifically and logically and in human terms we are on the edge of losing our ability to continue our existence."

Yarrow compared DeChristopher's action to Rosa Parks, that most famous of African American bus riders in the 1960s U.S. civil rights movement who, like others, refused to sit in the back of bus as black people were then ordered to do.

"[DeChristopher's action] was as an act of conscience saying, I will not let our planet go and I will, before I see that happen, if I need to, go to jail. That's what Rosa Parks did. She said, I will not continue to live this way so that I am unable to vote, I have to use different water fountains and other people of color are lynched and there's no due process or justice brought," Yarrow said, continuing to paraphrase the philosophy that he sees consistent in Parks and DeChristopher. "We can not walk this path anymore and if I don't take this stand then we lose and I'm willing to sacrifice my life, my years, my freedom in order to make sure that I have made this gesture and maybe that will stop the wheels of destruction from turning."

Ken Sleight, of Moab, was also in attendance at the rally with a film crew in toe. Sageland Pictures are working on a biopic titled "Seldom Seen." Sleight was a contemporary and friend of Edward Abbey, the author who wrote the classic American novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, in which the characters destroy construction equipment in southern Utah and dream of sabotaging the dam that buried Glenn Canyon beneath what is now called Lake Powell.

Sleight said DeChristopher is carrying on Abbey's mission of protecting wild lands and inspiring others to join the environmental movement. Sleight, the inspiration for Abbey's character Seldom Seen Smith in Monkey Wrench Gang, said DeChristopher would "fit into that [scene] really great."

"I look at Tim as part of that whole scene. We love him. I talked to Tim three or fours times now and he's genuine that he is really trying to change the thing, to change the politics of Utah--which is tough, we know that," 81-year-old Sleight said. "But as far as environmentalism, Tim is right up there on top. He's always going to be for years and years, 'most influential.' Most influential to all of us, just like we look at Abbey."

Keep reading CityWeekly.net for more of our nearly hour-long interview with Sleight.

As for the trial, little was revealed Monday. Opening statements are expected to be delivered Tuesday morning.

Discussion outside the court house among ralliers and news reporters has focused on what, exactly, the DeChristopher and his attorneys can present for defense. DeChristopher has publicly admitted to most elements of the prosecutions' allegations and the "necessity defense" that he wanted to present was ruled inadmissible by U.S. District Judge Dee Benson (who will preside over the trial). Essentially, that defense would have entailed arguments that DeChristopher had to commit his action because, the defense would argue, climate change is a threat to life and health of the entire planet and its inhabitants and, therefore, disrupting a federal oil and gas lease auction--while technically illegally--was the only rational thing to do.

DeChristopher's motivation may play a key role in the trial nevertheless says Salt Lake City attorney Rebecca Hall, who was in the court room as jurors were being selected. Hall said she does not know what strategy DeChristopher's defense team--Ron Yenich, Elizabeth Hunt and Patrick Shea--has planned. But to convict DeChristopher, Hall says, prosecutors need to prove he intended specifically to defraud the government. "I would argue that would at least allow [DeChristopher] to talk about his motivation," Hall says.

DeChristopher may appeal Benson's ruling that he may not present "necessity defense" argument or evidence, but Hall says he may not find any friendlier judges on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The more-liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Hall said, has a strong precedent that the 10th Circuit--though not bound by it--will likely find persuasive. "The 9th Circuit has a bar on the necessity defense in cases of civil disobedience," Hall says. That precedent is based on the 1992 case of U.S. v. Schoon.

Demonstrators lead by Peaceful Uprising, an activist group DeChristopher co-founded after finding fame as "Bidder 70," hope to keep the activists' energy constant throughout the three-day trial.

Not much aside from over-flowing praise for DeChristopher was seen on scene Monday. One protester during the opening march carried a sign saying Utah's oil belongs to Utah's schools, and chanted "drill here, drill now" to other protesters.

Online, however, more of DeChristopher's critics expressed their ideas. Salt Lake City tweeter and blogger Les Roka (@SelectiveEcho) criticized the demonstration. "Disappointed. DeChristopher not genuine activist in classic civil disobedience sense and this is nothing but substance-less PR." Later, Roka also decried comparison to Rosa Parks and this reporter's coverage of the events. "Seriously?! Disgrace, disrespectful of Mrs. Parks' memory and legacy. This is celebrity shit.You're a better journalist than this."

Sandy tweeter and blogger Jesse Harris (@Elforesto) was likewise unpersuaded. "Apparently Tim DeChristopher and his supporters think if you can justify breaking the law, you get a pass. Not so."

Keep reading CityWeekly.net/newsblog for more updates throughout the week.

Read More:

Tim DeChristopher, Daryl Hannah talk about Bidder 70 trial --videos

DeChristopher Trial: Protesters singing in solidarity

DeChristopher Trial: Decorum order locked in 19th Century

Zionized 74: Preparing to Rally

Rallies planned to surround DeChristopher trial next week

Trials of Conscience - Utah Anti-nuclear activists talk about their own trials.

Crunch Time - City Weekly's cover story featuring Tim DeChristopher from July 2009

Tim DeChristopher Readies for "Uprising"

Tim DeChristopher vs. the Puppets

Real Artpolitik

Tim DeChristopher, Clean Water & Hydropower

Supporters of Tim Dechristopher hold a midnight vigil

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