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09-24-08, 08:25 AM
Sep 24, 2008

Praying protesters found guilty of minor charge


WORCESTER— Five people who prayed in the lobby of the Harold Donohue Federal Courthouse for an end to the war in Iraq were found guilty on one charge yesterday in the same courthouse and found not guilty on a second charge.

Two of the defendants said they will not pay the $250 fine imposed by Magistrate Judge Timothy S. Hillman. Judge Hillman scheduled a hearing Nov. 6 to determine what to do about that.

Judge Hillman found Scott C. Schaeffer-Duffy, Kenneth J. Hannaford-Ricardi, and Michael D. Benedetti, all of Worcester; Sandra M. McSweeney of Mendon and Roger P. Stanley of Berlin guilty of failure to follow the lawful order of

the U.S. marshal to leave the building. He said that he was not convinced by the testimony to convict them of unnecessarily obstructing the courthouse or impeding federal officials from doing their duties.

Both charges are petty offenses, which are less serious than felonies or misdemeanors. Each was fined $250 plus fees that brought the assessment to $280.

Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy and Mr. Hannaford-Ricardi, both members of the Catholic Worker movement, each said their decision to renounce wealth — they said they earn about $6,000 a year — makes a fine unaffordable. But both said they were not paying the fine as a matter of principle.

Mr. Hannaford-Ricardi said he would pay “court costs” because he is responsible for the actions that brought him before the court. Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy agreed, but said he would not pay the fine portion of the assessment to the same government that is waging the war in Iraq that he opposes.

The five defendants, who represented themselves without lawyers, admitted in court that they knelt in prayer about 8:30 a.m. March 19 just inside the court lobby. They acknowledged to Assistant U.S. Attorney Karin M. Bell that they ignored three orders by Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Thomas Bezanson to leave the premises because they had no permit for a demonstration.

Deputy Bezanson testified yesterday that two deputies had to be reassigned from other duties to join three court security officers pulled away from their screening post to protect court employees and the public entering the building from the protesters, whose actions he said he could not predict and who were supported by a number of sign-carrying protesters outside the building.

He acknowledged that the kneeling protesters did not totally block access to the building, but Ms. Bell said that even making it harder for people to enter the building constitutes blocking an entrance under the law.

She said that Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy has been arrested 22 times for anti-war activities and Mr. Hannaford-Ricardi said that he has been arrested about 15 times because of protesting. Mr. Stanley said he is an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Army and of the Marines.

Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy wrote to the U.S. Marshals March 14 notifying them that up to eight people would pray in the courthouse lobby for up to 30 minutes five days later. He said he understood that he risked arrest but felt it was necessary to pray there because the courthouse represents the federal government, which continues a war that he said Pope John Paul II called “unjust, immoral, and illegal.”

Judge Hillman previously ruled that the defendants could not use as a defense that their actions were necessary to stop the war in Iraq. Yesterday he barred introduction of photographs of war victims as evidence.

At the end of the trial, which was observed by 17 people, Judge Hillman said “nice job, all of you” and praised both sides for their conduct March 19, “particularly Marshal Bezanson.”