Catholics acquitted of disorderly conduct following NY protest

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Five Catholics protesting U.S. drone warfare policies said they were stunned but relieved to be found not guilty of disorderly conduct for their roles in an Ash Wednesday demonstration at an upstate New York air base.

“We were like, really?” said defendant Ellen Grady, a Catholic Worker from Ithaca, N.Y., and a member of the Cornell Catholic Community at Cornell University.

“The judge said ‘I know this is going to be shocking to you all, but I’m finding in favor of the defendants,” Grady told Catholic News Service Oct. 28.

DeWitt Town Court Judge Robert L. Jokl Jr.’s announced his decision to a packed courtroom Oct. 24 after a five-hour trial. When pressed by the district attorney in the case, Jokl said that he had not found “mens rea,” Latin for guilty mind, in the actions of the five during the Feb. 13 protest at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base. The law’s standard test of criminal liability is that “the act is not culpable unless the mind is guilty.”

Hancock is one of several U.S. bases where drone operators pilot unmanned armed aircraft in their search for suspected Muslim militants around the world. Defense Department and White House policy has been not to comment publicly or even acknowledge the existence of a drone weapons program.

The case is believed to be the first in which protesters of drone warfare at U.S. air bases have been acquitted of any charges resulting from their actions.

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