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Charges Dismissed in Illinois Antiwar Trial

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October 2, 2007

WAUKEGAN —A judge in the 19th Circuit Court of Illinois today dismissed trespassing charges against an antiwar activist stemming from a civil disobedience demonstration last year at the nation’s command center for processing military recruits.

Before jurors were even picked in the trial of Jeff Leys, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, the Illinois State Attorney in the case moved for dismissal of the charge. Referring to yesterday’s bench trial before Judge Patrick Lawler which resulted in the acquittal of a reporter arrested at the July, 2006 demonstration with Leys, as well as the absence of the police officer who was the state’s key witness yesterday and presumably would have been today, the prosecutor moved the charge be dismissed. Judge Lawler granted the motion and Leys, prepared to represent himself “pro se,” walked out moments later.

On July 5, 2006, at the end of a month-long, 320-mile walk from the Illinois capital of Springfield, to the Military Entrance Processing Command (MEPCOM) at the Great Lakes Naval Base, Leys and two other protesters, Ceylon Mooney and Diane Hughes, walked onto the facility’s parking lot, knelt down and began reading a list of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians killed in the war. The three were taken into custody by military security officers and charged with trespass. Several court-ordered postponements in the case resulted in Leys’ trial being delayed until today.

Asked why he purposely got arrested last year, Leys said “We are living in a country that has initiated a world war and we need to use every means of non-violent opposition to end it.”

The 43 year-old former union organizer planned to represent himself, saying that “Ending the war is about getting ordinary people involved and we ought not have to rely on what experts have to say.”

Leys said his defense would have included a closing argument that included references to the legal theory of jury nullification, urging jurors to use the trial as an opportunity to oppose the war. “I would have asked the jury to find me guilty if they supported the war and to find me not guilty and if they opposed the war, regardless of the legal questions involved.”

Additionally, Leys said that if found guilty he was planning on informing the judge that he would not pay a fine and would have to be sent to jail. Echoing the words of Gandhi, Leys said, “If the judge agrees with the war he should give me the maximum sentence. If he opposes the war he should not only give me no sentence, but also follow the lead of a group of German judges who, in 1983, blockaded a military base about to deploy U.S. nuclear missiles.”

Earlier this year, Voices for Creative Nonviolence coordinated the Occupation Project which organized sit-downs in 39 local congressional offices by some 320 people around the country. Their next campaign is dubbed “Seasons of Discontent: A Presidential Occupation Project” (SODaPOP), which will kick off November 7 in Iowa, in advance of the presidential caucuses in that state.

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Mike Ferner is a freelance reporter from Ohio. www.mikeferner.org