Trial Day 2: Conviction

After brief deliberations, the jury returned with a verdict of guilty on both misdemeanor trespassing and felony criminal mischief. The trespassing verdict surprised no one, but the felony charge required the state to prove Leonard caused $1,500 or more in damages to Spectra, going beyond the cost of the chains he broke with bolt cutters and into far more abstract territory involving subsequent security measures the company took. At times, the prosecution’s argument felt analogous to charging a shoplifter with felony criminal mischief because a grocery store decided to install cameras and hire a full-time guard after a candy bar got stolen.

No one—Leonard least of all—came to this trial thinking there wouldn’t be consequences. The legal framework now exists for those consequences to be very dire, but this by no means is equivalent to a guarantee they will be. The Montana Department of Corrections will issue sentencing recommendations, but sentencing, scheduled for January 2, is ultimately at the discretion of the judge. There is every possibility that Leonard’s motivations and character will factor heavily into his sentence.

As in Washington, but unlike in North Dakota, the jurors seemed generally sympathetic, but fastidious in what they perceive as a duty to convict. A juror interviewed after the trial said these two things: that he “has a lot of respect” for people like Leonard, and that “the law is the law.”

The law is the law, and the world is on fire. These moments are always cause for reflections on fundamental questions—the meaning of struggle, the nature of justice, the fate of society, the fate of our species. Then again, the state of the world is also constant cause for these reflections. We don’t get to know whether our actions will impact the global climate trajectory. We don’t get to know what personal consequences our actions will have. We don’t get to know if our actions will seem “worth it” from the perspective of our future selves. 

Time and again, as we struggle against this crisis which is undoing the world, we find that the one thing this struggle accomplishes with absolute certainty is bringing us together. People focus on personal contentment and find themselves miserable and alone—with considerable irony, we accept struggle and sacrifice and find ourselves happy and together. Many of us are staying in Ft. Benton for Thanksgiving, this most confusing of holidays when Americans actually stop and think about the tremendous abundance at their disposal while also lauding colonization. We are preparing food for tomorrow, editing each others’ writing, going bowling, going running, having heartfelt talks, occasionally crying, laughing more often, marveling at the enormous cottonwoods on the Missouri, marveling at the magpies in the gray sky and making friends all over.

Leonard has been convicted of a felony, we can’t know the impact of his action, and there’s nowhere in the world we’d rather be.

With love,

Arnold

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