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Judge Sends War Protester to Prison for Six Months
By Nancy Dooling, Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin (New York)
Burns: 'My Conduct was Honorable'
BINGHAMTON — At least 30 peace activists sang a hymn as protester Daniel Burns was handcuffed Monday before beginning the six-month prison sentence he received in federal court for throwing his own blood in a military recruiting office.
Burns, a former Binghamton resident, was the first of the self-named St. Patrick's Four to be sentenced for their March 2003 protest in Tompkins County. Peter De Mott of Ithaca will be sentenced today; fellow Ithaca residents Clare Grady and Teresa Grady are to be sentenced later this week. All were in court Monday.
Ignoring orders from security guards to clear the court, the supporters clapped, then thronged around the 45-year-old Burns to sing the Sir Arthur Sullivan hymn Courage, Brother as Burns was led away by U.S. marshals. The federal Bureau of Prisons will determine in what prison Burns will serve his term.
In addition to six months behind bars, Burns will have to pay a portion of the $958 cost to clean the blood from the walls, floor and doors of the military recruiting office in Lansing, which was the site of the March 17, 2003, protest where blood was splashed, Judge Thomas J. McAvoy said.
A jury found all four guilty of damaging government property, a misdemeanor, but acquitted them of a felony conspiracy charge. Burns, De Mott and Clare Grady also were found guilty of trespassing, a misdemeanor.
Burns was fined $250 by the judge for contempt of court. Burns refused to answer a prosecutor's question during his September trial about who drew the blood from his arm.
Burns wasn't being punished for protesting, the judge said, but for the way he protested.
"The court doesn't question your motivation," McAvoy told Burns. "I know you didn't go there with an evil purpose in mind. What you did was violate the laws of the U.S."
And what Burns also did was put a recruiting officer in fear when blood got on the man's hand, the judge said. McAvoy could have given Burns up to a year in prison, but the judge said no amount of jail time would stop Burns and his co-defendants from future potential criminal acts.
"Nothing. No 'thing' that I say to you is going to change your mind," McAvoy said.
As the judge pronounced Burns' sentence, a mostly silent courtroom burst into life. "No more war," a supporter chanted several times.
Burns defended his acts, criticizing the government for illegal wiretaps and the war with Iraq.
"I believe my conduct was honorable," Burns said.
The judge also refused to change the wording of Burns' pre-sentence report. Burns asked McAvoy to change the words "splashed" and "threw" blood to "poured."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Miroslav Lovric had urged that Burns get the maximum sentence. He said Burns and the other three protesters had no respect for the law. He said Burns, Clare Grady and Teresa Grady violated American law when they went to Cuba last month to protest the government's holding of detainees at the U.S. Naval station at Guantanamo Bay.
Lovric said the trio did not get permission to travel to Cuba — a legal requirement — and that the U.S. State Department is investigating their visit.
"It's not a major, major crime," Lovric said. "It's the attitude: 'We can do anything we want as long as it justifies our goals.' "
Teresa Grady will be sentenced Friday. She criticized McAvoy afterward for the sentence he gave Burns.
"The judge didn't uphold the Constitution," she said of McAvoy, a 20-year veteran of the federal bench.
Outside, the street was quiet after the sentencing, although a few poster boards had been set in the snow like paper tombstones. "Not Dissenters, But Lawbreakers," read one. "St. Pats 4, American Taliban," read another.