MONTPELIER — The Vermont Supreme Court on Friday upheld the conviction of six people arrested for trespassing on Lowell Mountain almost two years ago as part of a protest against construction of the 21-turbine Kingdom Community Wind project.
The high court rejected legal arguments from the six based on who had ownership or the legal right to control the land where they were arrested in December 2011. They argued in part that the jury should have been made aware there was legal uncertainty about who could give the protesters permission to be on the land.
The six were apparently proceeding under the theory that if they could show during the trial that the existing property lines were inaccurate, the utility building the wind project could not have obtained the right to the property, the majority decision said.
“That is simply not the case,” said the decision, written by Chief Justice Paul Reiber.
But in a dissenting opinion, Justice John Dooley said the jury should have been given a more complete explanation about the dispute by the trial court judge so jurors could consider that in their deliberations.
“As the result of the court’s instruction allowing the jury to find lawful possession based on nothing more than control of the land, defendants were convicted of criminal trespass, subjecting them to fines and potential incarceration, without regard to whether they had, or reasonably believed that they had, the consent of the true owners of the property upon which they were arrested,” said Dooley’s dissent.
One of the defendants, Anne Morse, of Craftsbury Common, said Friday she was disappointed with the decision.
“We’re concerned about the decision because it really validates the corporate domination of our regulatory and our legal processes,” Morse said. “Green Mountain Power was able to obtain (permission from the state) to build a destructive ridgeline wind project that failed to achieve what they claimed to achieve, which is a reduction in carbon emissions.”
The Orleans County state’s attorney’s office declined to comment.
Green Mountain Power spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said Friday her company had nothing to do with the criminal case.
“We have a legal system in this country that listens to all sides and makes a determination,” she said. “In this case, it’s been determined the convictions were appropriate.”
The protesters were arrested while they blocked a road used to build the Kingdom Community Wind project owned by Green Mountain Power. They argued the owner of the land had given them permission to be there.
But there was a dispute about who owned or had control of the land where they were arrested — an Albany couple who had given them permission to be there, or Green Mountain Power.
In giving instructions to the jury, the judge rejected the defendants’ arguments that the jury be told to consider who had the right to possess the land — the utility or the couple.
The six were sentenced to community service.
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