During a short, mostly closed trial,
Currituck County District Judge Edgar Barnes took the rare step of clearing the courtroom after trying one of the protesters, Steve Baggarly of Norfolk, in public. The remaining six were then tried, convicted and sentenced behind closed doors.
The judge gave no reason for his action.
The seven received jail terms ranging from 10 to 45 days and were fined $100 each. They said they will not pay the fines. One was ordered to pay $450 restitution to Blackwater for damage to its property.
All were released pending their appeals.
After the trials, Baggarly speculated that the judge closed the courtroom to silence the group’s anti-war rhetoric.
“He didn’t want people influenced by our message,” Baggarly said. “There have been hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties in Iraq. If we’re going to speak about that, nobody is allowed to hear it. Obviously the system feels threatened by that. It loves darkness.”
Katy Parker, legal director of the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said she had never before heard of a similar action being taken by a North Carolina judge.
“It’s a clear violation of constitutional rights, not only of the defendants but the press and public,” she said. “They have a right to a public trial, so any trial that goes on behind closed doors is a farce.”