Monday 23 September 2019

Anti-war protester convicted of axe attack on US plane

Gordon Deegan

ANTI-WAR activist Mary Kelly was last night convicted by a jury of the criminal damage of a United States navy plane at Shannon airport.

After two-and-a-half hours of deliberation at Ennis Circuit Court, a jury of eight men and four women returned a 10 to 2 majority verdict finding that Ms Kelly (52) caused the criminal damage without lawful excuse of a 737 US navy plane at Shannon airport on January 29, 2003.

The trial heard Ms Kelly took an axe to the navy plane, causing $1.5m in damage and that the plane was en route from Fort Worth in Texas to a military logistics base in Italy, carrying spare parts and spare tyres.

Ms Kelly - who remained impassive as the majority verdict was read out - is to be sentenced today by Judge Carroll Moran, where the maximum sentence allowed is 10 years in prison.

After the case, Ms Kelly - who represented herself in the six-day trial - was greeted by applause from supporters outside Ennis courthouse and read from a statement.

"I am saddened by the verdict, but not surprised, I did my very best to show the jury the true facts around this case," she told the supporters.

"My defence was hindered and closed down from the beginning by the trial judge.

"Under the circumstances, the jury could hardly have found the truth of the matter regarding my innocence or guilt.

"They are not to blame for this. The case will go to appeal and the final verdict has not yet been spoken."

The trial was punctuated by heated exchanges between Ms Kelly and Judge Moran in the absence of the jury over the judge's refusal to allow expert witnesses such as former Assistant United Nations Secretary General, Denis Halliday; and Professor of International Law, Curtis Doebbler, to testify on Ms Kelly's behalf.

Judge Moran told the jury yesterday that he did not allow those witnesses to give evidence "because I did not want this case to degenerate into a political debate. This is not a case to consider the legality of the war in Iraq".

Judge Moran said their evidence was not relevant to the charge of criminal damage to the American plane.

The judge added: "This case is not about the legitimacy of the war in Iraq, it is about whether Ms Kelly is guilty or not guilty.

"The law does not allow us to take the law into our own hands because we disagree with what our government is doing," he said.

"People act frequently to take actions on principle of conscience and if they break the law, they take the consequences and this is a matter for you to consider."

The judge then read out to the jury excerpts from Ms Kelly's testimony in which she justified damaging the plane.

He remarked: "It is all 'I', no one is paying attention to 'me'. There is a certain self-opinionated element to the stance she is taking.

"No one can stand above the law.

He told the jury: "I dare say that you have a lot of sympathy for Ms Kelly, but I would ask you to deal with the matter as dispassionately as you can.

"Be ruled by your head and not your heart," he said.

Ms Kelly argued that she had lawful excuse to damage the plane as she was trying to save lives in Iraq.

However, in his direction to the jury, Judge Moran said the defence of lawful excuse did not apply in this case as there was no connection in space and time between the act carried out by Ms Kelly and the person or property that she was claiming to be protecting.

In his closing speech to the jury, Stephen Coughlan, BL, for the State, said that even if Ms Kelly was acting to prevent a crime, she was engaging in an act of vigilantism.

Mr Coughlan said: "Two wrongs don't make a right. You can't take the law into your own hands."

He claimed the criminal damage of the plane was a premeditated act and that the force used was excessive.

Ms Kelly made an impassioned and highly charged address to the jury.

"I didn't run away," she said. "I wanted to be responsible and be accountable for my actions; to stop the daily slaughter that is going on . . . I acted to save life and property."

Ms Kelly last night asked Judge Moran to adjourn sentencing to today.

She said: "I'm not prepared to deal with this situation."

The trial was the second time that Ms Kelly has gone on trial for the offence. In June 2003, a jury failed to reach a verdict in the case.

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