Judge finds ‘Creech 14’ guilty of trespass at Nevada drone base

Fourteen faith-based peace activists have been found guilty of criminal trespass at a Nevada air force base.

The group was charged April 9, 2009, after walking through an open gate at Creech Air Force Base seeking to talk with soldiers piloting unmanned drones over Afghanistan and Pakistan from the military installation.

Continuing a long history of prayer witnesses at U.S. military installations near Las Vegas coordinated by the Nevada Desert Experience, the group was sentenced to time served by Judge William Jansen of the Las Vegas Justice Court. The 14 had spent a night or two in jail after their arrest.

The defendants included Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence; Jesuit Fathers John Dear and Steve Kelly; Franciscan Fathers Louis Vitale and Jerry Zawada; Holy Child of Jesus Sister Megan Rice; Catholic Workers Mariah Klusmire of Albuquerque, N.M., Brian Terrell of Maloy, Iowa, and Renee Espeland of Des Moines, Iowa; Dennis DuVall, Judy Homanich, Brad Lyttle, Libby Pappalardo and Eve Tetaz.

The case drew wide attention when Jensen allowed the defendants to build their defense around international law, which, they testified, required them to actively oppose what they consider the illegal use of the drones. They also argued they had a First Amendment right to assemble peaceably for a redress of grievance.

After a one-day trial in September, Jansen said he needed time to make a proper decision and set sentencing for Jan. 27, which the defendants readily pointed out was the 60th anniversary of the first nuclear tests at the Nevada test site.

In a 21-page opinion, Jansen said the group’s concern about the drones was not enough of an immediate threat to acquit anyone.

“In the end the people felt good they didn’t get the book thrown at them,” Jim Haber, coordinator of the Nevada Desert Experience, told Catholic News Service shortly after the judge’s decision was read in court.

“But we’re disappointed. Here’s an elder judge. He took all the time to do all this research, but basically didn’t come down any different than in any other case,” Haber said.

Haber pledged that the vigils will continue. In fact, the group was to be joined by others at a prayer vigil in Las Vegas later today; tomorrow at Creech and Saturday at the nuclear weapons testing site.

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