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Ploughshare Seven Trial Special report from US: Trident Ploughshares trial

OPENING arguments began on Monday in the criminal trial of seven US peace activists who, on April 4, 2018, breached security and were arrested on the Kings Bay Trident Submarine Base in Georgia.

The base is home to six US Trident submarines and also periodically services the British fleet of four Vanguard-class Trident submarines.

As proceedings began and a jury was selected, the defendants sat patiently beneath a portrait of Sir Thomas More, looking down on them from the mahogany-coloured walls of a federal courtroom in Brunswick, Georgia. 

Like More, the defendants, known as the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, face their potential sentence willingly — as much as 25 years in jail — driven by the conviction of their Catholic faith.

The day-long jury selection process finally saw 10 women and four men seated — the jury of 12 also includes two reserves. 

One by one the pool of 72 potential jurors had been asked a series of questions by presiding US District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood, who cautioned them to let only factual evidence, and not emotions, drive their decision-making. 

But one older African-American woman, who cares professionally for the elderly, stated of the defendants, who range from 55 to 79, “I think I’ll feel sorry for them,” before being dismissed.

According to one of the defendants, Patrick O’Neill, who was sitting nearby, she then turned to the judge and said: “You think they’re guilty. And they think they’re innocent.”

“That was her reading of the atmosphere in the court,” O’Neill told a packed room of supporters during the lunchtime recess, many of whom have travelled across the country to watch the trial in person and vigil daily outside the courthouse. “The situation is already loaded against us.”

In his opening statement, the prosecutor for the US government, assistant US attorney Karl Knoche, described the events of the night of April 4, 2018, when the seven defendants used bolt cutters to remove padlocks at the Kings Bay base entrance, then cut their way through a razor-wire fence, before spray painting and hammering on base property.

The jury will be shown 75 minutes of video footage captured by O’Neill and fellow defendant Carmen Trotta, both of whom wore GoPro cameras to record their actions.

Defence attorney Bill Quigley, representing Liz McAlister, at 79 the oldest defendant and a former nun, told the jury in his opening statement that in their shoes he would “ask three questions: who are these people? What did they do? And why did they do it?”

After telling stories about each defendant’s personal commitment to their “voluntary poverty,” their faith and their work caring for the poor, he told the jury the seven freely admit to their actions, but will argue they were not illegal. “They are full of faith, hope and charity,” said Quigley, who did not ask for acquittal. Rather, he told the jury, “they hope you will see the justice of the actions they took.”

The trial is expected to last until Friday.

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