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SOA protesters fined, imprisoned

Tuesday, January 31st 2006

Pat Gillespie, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

For Donte Smith, crossing the line onto Fort Benning last November was therapeutic.

For his parents, it was frustrating and saddening.

Smith, 19, was one of 17 SOA Watch protesters who entered the military installation the weekend of Nov. 20 during the annual protest of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, which trains military personnel from Latin America. The SOA Watch contends the institute, formerly the School of the Americas, has trained soldiers who have committed human rights violations.

"I didn't think of the effect it would have on my family, on my life," the teenager said, referring to the institute as the "School of Assassins."

Smith was suspended from Georgetown University for getting arrested, his attorney Bill Conwell told U.S. Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth during trials for the protesters Monday. He pleaded with the judge to be lenient with the sentence because Smith can reapply for admission next January.

As Smith read a statement about the torture the school allegedly has taught soldiers, his mother started crying and had to leave the courtroom. His father tried to quietly urge his son to stop reading the statement.

Faircloth sentenced Smith to 90 days in prison and a $500 fine for the misdemeanor trespass, saying his parents and university warned him about getting arrested. Conwell then pleaded for the judge to reconsider, saying that the sentence will hurt Smith's chances of readmission.

"Obviously, he has great potential, and I don't think this sentence will squelch that," Faircloth said, referring to how the Houston native got into a prestigious university such as Georgetown.

In all, 17 protesters were sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court for crossing onto the military reservation last November. Priscilla Treska, who has served 72 days in the Muscogee County Jail after refusing bond following her Nov. 20 arrest, was sentenced to time served. Faircloth decided that was long enough.

Treska told the judge she loves children so much that she has 15. And after going to the protest and during the vigil, hearing the names of children who were killed, she felt compelled to cross over the fence.

Also sentenced Monday were: Buddy Bell, of Chicago, 90 days in prison and a $500 fine; Fred Brancel, 79 of Madison, Wis., 90 days and $500; Robert Call, 72 of Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., 90 days; Joanne Cowan, Boulder, Colo., 60 days; Anika Cunningham, Bowling Green, Ohio, 30 days and $500; Scott Dempsky, Denmark, Wis., 90 days; Joe DeRaymond, Freemansburg, Pa., 90 days and $500; Sam Foster, Minneapolis, 60 days and $500; Michael Gayman, Davenport, Iowa, 60 days and $500; Jane Hosking, Luck, Wis., six months and $1,000; John LaForge, Luck, Wis., six months and $1,000; Robin Lloyd, Burlington, Vt., 90 days and $500; Judith Ruland, Springfield, Mass., 60 days and $500; Delmar Schwaller, Appleton, Wis., 60 days; Louis Vitale, San Francisco, six months.

Trials and plea hearings will continue at 9 a.m. today in the federal courthouse building at 12th Street and Second Avenue.

See a slide show and hear audio from defendants at www.ledger-enquirer.com


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