Four peace witnesses were convicted of trespassing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in a Dec. 4 trial in U.S. District Court in Santa Barbara, Calif. Their crime: stepping two feet across a green line on a roadway limiting where protesters can gather.
Jesuit Father Steve Kelly, Franciscan Father Louis Vitale, Dennis Apel of the Guadalupe Catholic Worker in Guadalupe, Calif., and Jeff Dietrich of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker were found guilty in verdicts handed down by Magistrate Rita Coyne Federman.
The case against a fifth defendant, L.A. Catholic Worker Mike Wiskiewski, who was photographing the encounter, was dismissed. Coyne Federman ruled prosecutors failed to prove he was given a warning to move back across the line before his arrest. The others were given the warning, hence the guilty verdicts.
The arrests came during an Armed Forces Day vigil May 19, 2007, according to Dietrich. He said Apel originally wanted to talk with the base soldiers about their role in carrying out military orders that have led to the maiming and killing of innocent civilians, especially in Iraq. When he refused to step back across the line, the others joined him in support and also were arrested.
Father Kelly told Catholic News Service the defendants had built their defense around their religious convictions and on international law that prohibits the development of weapons of mass destruction. However, Coyne Federman prohibited such testimony after the federal prosecutor objected.
The group faces sentencing March 12. Because all are long-time protesters and have been tried and found guilty of similar charges in the past, they face up to six months in jail.
Vandenberg has been the site of monthly prayer vigils organized by Apel and others concerned about the development work being done at the base on a space-based missile defense system.