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BY SAM SPOKONY | Eight Occupy Wall Street protesters were convicted on Mon., June 18 of misdemeanor trespassing on property owned by Trinity Church Wall Street last December, but at least one of them has plans to appeal the ruling.
After a weeklong, non-jury trial, a criminal court judge found the demonstrators guilty of entering Duarte Square, a lot on the corner of Canal Street and Varick Street, without the church’s permission.
Seven of the defendants were sentenced to four days of community service. The eighth, Mark Adams, was also convicted of criminal mischief and attempted criminal possession of burglar’s tools—both misdemeanors—and sentenced to 45 days in jail, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
Ted Alexandro, one of those convicted, told the Downtown Express that he will be appealing the decision.
Paul Mills, Alexandro’s attorney, said he believes the grounds for appeal are strong, in part because of signs posted around Duarte Square at the time of the December 2011 arrests stating that the park was open to the public year-round from 7 a.m. to dusk.
“There’s a question in my mind as to whether anyone can ever be convicted of trespassing when a park has a sign up saying that it’s open to the public,” explained Mills.
Photos of those signs had been submitted as evidence during the criminal court trial, according to an article that appeared in The Villager’s June 14 print edition.
Alexandro, a standup comedian who has been featured on Comedy Central and late-night national T.V., couldn’t comment on the events that took place in Duarte Square the day of his arrest. But he had refused a plea bargain offered by the D.A. in March—which would have left him without a criminal record—because he felt compelled to call attention to perceived violations of O.W.S. protesters’ First Amendment rights, he said.
“This all pales in comparison to the illegality of the police evicting us from Zuccotti Park,” Alexandro elaborated. “For reasons like that, on behalf of my own rights and the rights of others, I want to see this process all the way through.”
O.W.S. demonstrators were removed from their original encampment at Zuccotti Park, a few blocks away from Trinity Church, in an unannounced overnight raid by the N.Y.P.D. last November. The protestors’ Dec. 17 attempt to enter Duarte Square was part of a search for a new base of the movement’s operations, according to a protester quoted in The Villager.
In a statement released following the June 18 verdict, D.A. communications director Erin Duggan said that although her office respects the First Amendment rights of protesters, “[These rights] must be exercised in a way that does not violate the law or infringe upon other citizens’ rights.”
The Rev. John Merz, a member of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, was one of 65 people arrested in Duarte Square on Dec. 17. Rather than fight his trespassing charges in court, he chose to accept a plea bargain offered by the D.A.
But Merz said he still believed that leaders of Trinity Church were wrongly “playing both sides of the fence” regarding what he called their initial encouragement of O.W.S. and the subsequent lack of help when it came to the protesters’ search for a new encampment.
“Trinity, which had publicly espoused its support, was simply being held to its word when we entered Duarte Square,” said Merz.
On June 18, the same day of the verdict, the church published on its blog that it is “sympathetic to many of the OWS protestors’ stated goals.” But its spokesperson, Linda Hanick, said that permission to use private church property had never been granted, adding that “[our] position has been crystal clear and unequivocal from the start.”