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Father Jim Murphy Sentenced to Five Days in Jail in Wisconsin for Anti-drone action


By Joy First

Father Jim Murphy of Highland, WI was found guilty of trespass during a bench trial on January 4, 2016.  With Judge Paul Curran presiding over the Juneau County proceedings we saw another miscarriage of justice in our continuing struggle to end drone warfare.  Jim will be spending five days in the Juneau County jail after stating he would not pay a $232 fine.

Jim was arrested on August 25, 2015 along with eight other activists, for stepping onto the base at Volk Field, an Air National Guard Base in Wisconsin where they train pilots to operate the Shadow Drones.  This action was at the end of an eight-day 90 mile walk from Madison, WI to Volk Field organized by Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

The prosecutor, DA Solovey, called three witnesses - the chief of security at Volk Field, the Juneau County Sheriff, and a deputy sheriff - to establish Jim’s identity, that he did walk onto the base, and that he was not authorized to do so.  Jim declined to cross-examine the county’s witnesses.

Jim took the stand in his defense and stated his name as Jim Murphy.  Curran wanted it noted for the record that Jim was a Catholic priest and was officially Father James Murphy.  Jim began to read a prepared statement condemning drone warfare.  He was interrupted by Curran who said that this is only about the trespass charge, nonetheless he allowed Jim to continue with his statement.  However, Solovey quickly objected and the judge said Jim could not finish his statement.  The judge also commented that Obama does not care what his court has to say about drone warfare.

Jim was persistent and asked for the court’s indulgence to complete his statement, and finally Curran decided to allow him to finish.

Jim eloquently reminded us that, “We cannot remain silent without becoming complicit.”  I hope the judge heard that and thought about what his silence means.   Jim finished by saying, “You view this as a trespass charge.  I view it as a long tradition of opposition to war.”

Judge Curran ruled that Jim was guilty of trespass and said he would have to pay a $232 fine.  Jim said he was not able to pay the fine and would do the jail time instead.  Curran seemed very uncomfortable with this prospect (because he was a priest?) and finally Curran responded that he knew Jim really couldn’t pay the fine and so he would sentence him to five days in jail and spare him the lecture about Juneau County’s financial difficulties.

This was in reference to the lecture given by Judge Curran when two activists from earlier trials took the jail time rather than pay the fine.  The judge told them that Juneau County is one of the poorest counties in the state and admonished the activists for using county money to put them in jail in lieu of paying the fine.  I guess Judge Curran must have some kind of insider knowledge – or more likely some deep-seated prejudice – so that he can determine that it is ok for some of us to choose jail time, but not for all of us. 

The judge could have saved the county a lot of money by granting our motion for consolidation, but he refused to do so.  There will be seven more trials, with Bonnie Block coming next on January 8.  In the meantime, keep up the resistance and join us in DC on January 12 for the Real State of the Union action.

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