AUGUSTA — A jury on Friday convicted a Hallowell man on a criminal trespass charge for remaining at the governor’s residence last November after police told protesters involved with Occupy Augusta to leave.
Greg Fahy, 44, a philosophy professor at the University of Maine at Augusta, was the seventh person to be tried on that charge in Kennebec County Superior Court and the second to be found guilty.
“We certainly understand the defendant’s motivation and interest and desire to protest, but if you violate the criminal law, there needs to be a consequence,” Acting District Attorney Alan Kelley said after the trial.
Fahy’s conviction came just a day after a mistrial was declared in a separate trial of five other people who faced the same charges. The deadlocked jury in that case couldn’t reach a decision following many hours of deliberation and reports to the judge that some of the jurors were biased against the government.
By contrast, the jury in Fahy’s case deliberated about 20 minutes before returning the guilty verdict in the half-day trial. The judge fined Fahy $100 for the offense, noting that he had no prior criminal record.
Nine people arrested at the Blaine House Nov. 27 were among dozens protesting an order to end the weeks-long Occupy Augusta encampment at Capitol Park.
The prosecutor at the trial, Assistant District Attorney James Mitchell Jr., said Fahy defied police orders to leave the Blaine House grounds. Fahy was the only witness called by defense attorney Walter McKee, and said he did not hear a police warning to leave before he was arrested.
Fahy testified that he had concerns about going on the property on State Street, but they were alleviated when he walked through the open front gate behind dozens of other marchers.
“There were no signs,” he testified. “I had no communication that I couldn’t be there. It was not private property; I knew that.”
Four police officers testified about seeing dozens of protesters milling around the lawn and shouting from the sidewalk. They said some people left after they were warned.
A separate trial of five co-defendants ended Thursday in a mistrial, and four of those people — Elizabeth A. Burke, 48, of Union; Patricia L. Messier, 63, of Wiscasset; Jenny Gray, 54, of Wiscasset; and David J. Page, 44, of Surry, returned to the courtroom Friday to support Fahy. Also watching was Diane Messer, 59, of Liberty, who was found guilty March 23 of the criminal trespass charge and fined $400.
Another defendant, James Freeman, 62, of Verona Island, has a June 5 court hearing.
On Friday morning, Mitchell said people can exercise their right to free speech and assembly on the streets and sidewalks and in Capitol Park, across State Street from the capitol building and the governor’s mansion, a site he likened to People’s Park in front of the White House.
But, “Greg simply wasn’t told at all he had to leave,” McKee told jurors in his opening statement. “The first he heard about it was when he was under arrest.”
McKee said Fahy had joined people from the Occupy Augusta encampment at Capitol Park to protest an order to end the nighttime camping and to get a permit to use it during the day.
McKee said Fahy thought that was unfair and wanted to show his support for the group that had been at the park since Oct. 15.
The first witness, Capitol Police Officer Paul Lapierre, testified he saw about 30 to 40 people milling on the Blaine House grounds Nov. 27, as well as a woman on the balcony, and some signs that had been hung.
He said there was drumming and the protesters were chanting, “Whose house? Our house.”
Mitchell told jurors that the property of the governor’s mansion is a not a public forum and not a site for protests, echoing the same arguments that have been made in the previous trials.
“When an officer says you have to leave, you have to leave,” Mitchell said.
Betty Adams — 621-5631