For Immediate Release: Skagit Jury Refuses to Convict First “Valve-Turner”, Vindicates Climate Threat
February 1st, 2017
Jay O’Hara, 774-313-0881, firstname.lastname@example.org
Marla Marcum, 781-475-0996, email@example.com
Mt Vernon, WA - In a resounding recognition of the threat of climate change, a Skagit County jury has refused to convict Ken Ward of two felony counts stemming from an act of civil disobedience in October of last year. After more than five hours of deliberation, Ward’s three-day trial ended in a hung jury, with at least one juror refusing to convict.
“In five hours, the jury was unable to decide that with all of the evidence against me, including the video of me closing the valve, that this was a crime. I didn’t contest a single piece of the evidence, only presented my story and evidence of catastrophic climate change. This is a tremendous outcome.,” said Ken Ward after the decision.
The trial was closely watched as the first in a series stemming from pipeline protests last October. The outcome of Ward’s trial is a powerful victory for the group who call themselves the “ValveTurners.” On October 11th 2016, Ward closed an emergency block valve on Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain Pipeline, which transports tar sands from Canada to Washington refineries. The action, coordinated with four others across the country, was described by Reuters as“the biggest coordinated move on U.S. energy infrastructure ever undertaken by environmental protesters.”The Valve Turners’ action stopped the equivalent of 15% of the amount of oil burned in the United States in a single day. Ward was charged with two felonies, sabotage and burglary, and faced up to 20 years imprisonment and $40,000 in fines had he been convicted.
Leonard Higgins, who in coordination with Ward and three other valve turners, shut off the flow of Spectra Energy’s Express tar sands pipeline in Montana, said, “I’m so excited to see that the jury recognized the integrity, honor and patriotism of Ken Ward, and recognized that what he did was done for all of us. I’m looking forward to presenting the same case to a jury in Montana.”
Wardbroadcast his action, which included cutting two chains to enter a TransMountain block valve site and closing the valve. Ward did not contest the facts of his actions. In a pre-trial hearing, presiding judge Michael Rickert denied Ward’s request to mount a “necessity defense” and call expert witnesses to testify about the dangers associated with climate change, including its threat to civilization. Despite this, Ward’s defense consisted exclusively of his motivation to confront the threat of climate change, and the defense did not contest a single piece of evidence brought by the prosecution. Several exhibits demonstrating climate science and impacts and the role of civil disobedience in societal change were permitted as evidence. Ward himself was the only witness called by the defense. The jury deliberated while looking at charts demonstrating the dramatic increase of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and the impacts of sea-level rise to Skagit County.
Emily Johnston, valve turner on one of Enbridge’s two tar sands pipelines in Minnesota remarked, “This trial was about climate change. The prosecution presented only information about what Ken did on October 11, and Ken and the defense presented only information about climate change, so the only decision that the jury was making was which story mattered more. And the story of the climate crisis won.”
After over five hours of deliberation, the jury failed to come to a unanimous verdict. Since the jury could not agree on a verdict, Judge Rickert declared a mistrial. Prosecutors could attempt to try Ward again, but for now the “valve-turners” are savoring their victory and vindication by a jury of Ken’s peers.
Marla Marcum, Director of the Climate Disobedience Center, said, “this outcome shows that the conscience of the community, despite this being a refinery town, understands the climate threat, understands in their hearts that the valve turners are right, and when people of conviction stand up to do what is right, people are moved.”
Also watching today’s decision are the 52 people arrested in Skagit County blocking oil-trains during last April’s Break Free protests. Schedules in Skagit County Court are packed as thirty-nine of them head to trials starting tomorrow and lasting into mid-March. Dozens of Skagit residents will hear similar cases to Ward’s over the next few months and will be asked to make a similar decision.
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