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Mistrial declared in Occupy Maine trespassing case

AUGUSTA, Maine - A Superior Court jury delivered what a defense lawyer viewed as a victory for the Occupy movement Thursday when it deadlocked in a criminal trespass case stemming from a protest on the governor’s mansion property last fall.

The jury was released by Justice Nancy Mills after failing to agree on verdicts in the case against five members of Occupy Augusta.

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“I think it’s definitely a victory. We made an argument that the Blaine House, as part of the Capitol complex . . . is a public forum for First Amendment activities,’’ defense lawyer Lynne Williams said.

It was undecided whether there will be a retrial for the five: Elizabeth Burke, 48, of Union; Kimberly Cormier, 47, of Benton; Patricia Messier, 63, of Wiscasset; Jenny Gray, 54, of Wiscasset; and David Page, 44, of Surry.

Kennebec County’s acting district attorney, Alan Kelley, said no decision had been reached on a retrial. But he said his office will take into consideration a note that was passed from the jury to the judge saying some of the jurors were biased against the government and were unable to reach a verdict.

The case follows a string of court defeats for the Occupy movement in Augusta, Portland, and other cities outside of the state, where judges have ruled that the protesters’ encampments could be broken up without violating the participants’ free-speech rights. Occupy members have protested what they view as economic disparities in America.

The five defendants were among a group of nine who were charged with defying police orders to leave the Blaine House grounds on Nov. 27. The group was protesting police demands that they get a permit to continue their encampment.

Two cases remain to be tried. Of the other two decided already, one defendant pleaded no contest and was fined $250. The other, Diane Messer of Liberty, was found guilty and fined $400 plus fees.

Messer, who was in court observing the latest case Thursday, said the Occupy members chose jury trials because “we firmly believed we had a right to defend our constitutional rights and to have a jury of our peers judge whether we were justified, and the only way to do that is to have a trial by jury.’’

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