Report from Rod Coronado trial
After spending the court day on Monday with jury selection, the 12 person (plus one alternate) was seated Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, and opening statements were made by both prosecution and defense attorneys before Tuesday's noon lunch break. The jury is mostly white in this conservative town with a large military population, with one African American and 4 Latino, and a seven/five gender split, with two more women than men.
Prosecuting for the federal government are Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Skerlos and John Parmley. Rod's legal team includes San Diego attorney Jerry Singleton, San Francisco attorneys Tony Serra, Omar Figueroa, Ben Rosenfeld and paralegal Steve Christianson. It is a great team that has now been effectively gagged, as the judge admonished the defendant and his lawyers about generating media attention. The judge was upset about an AP story that appeared the first day of court, and after a noon press conference on Tuesday, the defense team was called on the carpet again after the government attorneys went running to the judge complaining. We had misunderstood the judge in thinking he just did not want Rod speaking to media—turns out he wants all lips zipped. Two FBI agents were skulking around the press conference pretending to talk on their cell phones while recording conversations.
Tony Serra was in great form at the press conference however, talking about the government trampling on their own flag, and burning, figuratively, the Constitution, in prosecuting this crime of speech. The government charges are "demonstrating how to make a destructive device" (18 USC 842 (p)(2)(A)), as a result of answering a question posed by an audience member at a speech that Rod gave in San Diego on August 1, 2003. The Dept. of Justice (DOJ) has reportedly used this law only four times, but has used it twice now against political dissidents.
This case is clearly one that revolves around the issue of Free Speech and the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has carved out three famous exceptions to free speech:
· the "fighting words" exception (Chaplinsky v New Hampshire)
· the obscenity exception (Miller vs California), and
· the "clear and present danger" exception (Brandenburg v. Ohio).
However, each exception is extremely limited. As Justice William Brandeis eloquently wrote in 1927: "Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears. No danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. The remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence."
Defense attorneys made the point today when a San Diego undercover cop was on the stand that although two members of the San Diego Joint Terrorism Task Force were present in the audience when Rod made the speech, they did not arrest Mr. Coronado until 30 months later. Aren't they supposed to act on observance of commission of a crime?, asked attorney Tony Serra on cross examination.
Prior to the cop's time on the stand, a video tape of the 2003 speech was shown to the jury and the courtroom. The government had sought to bring in excerpts of the speech—obviously comments that would seem inflammatory when taken out of context. The defense argued to contextualize the excerpts by bringing in the entire speech, so that is what happened. It was truly amazing to have such a strong, passionate speech about biocentrism, an indigenous world view and respect for all species be presented in a federal courtroom. Some jurors appeared to listen raptly.
The prosecution was able to bring in a fire chief and dramatic footage of the fire at the new development that ELF took responsibility for that occurred in 2003 in San Diego about 14 hours before Rod's speech (and while he was still in Arizona) and that blazing footage was, of course, what made it on this evening's news report of the trial.
We expect ATF, more cops and more speech excerpts tomorrow. If the prosecution wraps up by the end of Wednesday, as expected, the defense will start on Thursday morning.
The legal team is doing a great job. Government agents are everywhere. Rod and Chrysta and everyone working on this case need and deserve your support and prayers.
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