Friday, July 24, 2009

State Attorney unable to establish FPL ownership of Barley Barber in Trial;

Martin County comes down hard on swamp defendant Stevie Lowe despite Not Guilty verdict
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Stuart, FL—Today’s victory against Florida Power & Light (FPL) was bittersweet for Stevie Lynn Lowe. The jury returned a ‘not-guilty’ verdict for the charge of Trespassing on the Barley Barber swamp, indicating that State Prosecutors, Maria Zamora were unable to establish clear property boundaries for the old-growth swamp claimed as private property by FPL . Yet, in a confusing twist of events, a verdict of ‘guilty’ was returned for the charge of Resisting Without Violence (a charge which rarely stands on its own.)

Everglades Earth First! (EEF!), the local group with which Lowe was a part of, celebrated the outcome as a victory towards truly preserving Barley Barber swamp. At the opening of the Defense’s case, Lowe’s Public Defender, Jordan Dershaw, filed a motion for a Judgment of Acquittal (JOA) based on the fact that Barley Barber swamp is a recognized navigable waterway with documented historical use for transport and commerce and its current connectivity to the L-65 Canal, St. Lucie Canal and Lake Okeechobee. The presiding County Court Judge, Stuart Hershey, denied the JOA, prompting Dershaw to present the expert testimony of hydro-ecologist Dr. Sydney T. Bacchus to establish the presence of this public navigable waterway.

Dr. Bacchus is an expert scientific witness in legal cases and has worked for several government agencies dealing with the jurisdiction of waterways, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). Judge Hershey expelled Dr. Bacchus’ testimony from the trial, refusing to allow the jury to hear the expert testimony for themselves. The Judge used highly questionable grounds, utilizing weak case-law interpretation provided by the Prosecution.

Despite these substantial setbacks, the jury still ruled in favor of Ms. Lowe on the charge of trespassing. To a packed courtroom, the Judge sentenced Lowe to ninety days on the remaining charge of Resisting (Arrest) Without Violence. Lowe, who has no prior criminal record, was also given a year of probation, almost one thousand dollars in court and investigation costs. Supporters considered the ninety days excessive given the fact that the jury found her not-guilty on the charge for which she was arrested.

“Its a real David and Goliath story. Stevie Lowe bravely stood up to one of the largest corporations in Florida and won. FPL is destroying the natural heritage of Martin County. We need to hold FPL accountable for their destruction of Barley Barber swamp. Stevie has put us on the right path,” commented Everglades Earth First! organizer Russell McSpadden outside the courtroom.

Citing that a co-defendant of Lowe’s plead out to Judge Hershey earlier this month for a 5 day sentence, supporters stated that Lowe was being punished for exercising her constitutional right to a trial by jury. Several new motions and an appeal for Lowe's release are pending.

“While Martin County has attempted to intimidate and suppress the voices of FPL’s opponents, we remain more committed than ever to protect the ancient swamp of Barley Barber for future generations.”


An Appeal for Barley Barber and an Appellate Bond for Stevie Lynn Lowe:

Today [7/23/09] Stevie Lynn Lowe went to trial for her actions to defend and save Barley Barber Swamp. Stevie faced the charges of trespassing into Barley Barber and for resisting arrest when she swam through the swamp, climbed a tall Swamp Maple and locked herself to the tree. At 3705 Megawatts, FPL’s Martin County Power Plant, which sits adjacent to Barley Barber is killing the wetlands through hydrologic disruption and pollution.

The Jury found Stevie no guilty of trespassing. Neither the State nor FPL could prove that the energy giant owns Barley Barber. This was a major victory. However, the charge of resisting arrest without violence, a misdemeanor, stuck. The Judge presiding over the case sentenced Stevie, who has no prior record, to 90 days in jail and a year probation for that single charge which rarely stands on its own. This excessive sentencing is an obvious attempt to stifle dissent.

We may need to raise approximately $5000 dollars to get Stevie out on appellate bond while we proceed to appeal several aspects of the case, including the excessive sentencing. The money raised for bond will eventually come back to us after the appeal process and will we used for future organizing and legal support for direct action in the swamps.

Please donate money:
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