Jury urged acquittal of US veterans charged with violation at Shannon Airport

A jury in the trial of two US Army veterans charged with violation and criminal damage at Shannon Airport has been urged to “be the lamp that shows freedom lives” and acquit them both.

The jury in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court trial of octogenarians Ken Mayers (85) and Tarak Kauff (80) began deliberations shortly after noon on Friday.

Mr. Mayers, of Monte Alte Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico and Mr. Kauff, of Arnold Drive, Woodstock, New York have pleaded not guilty to trespass, criminal harm, and disrupting the operation, security, or management of Shannon Airport on March 17, 2019.

During the trial, both men served in the United States military before becoming anti-war activists in the 1960s. They are members of a US-based group called Veterans for Peace.

In their evidence before the trial this week, both defendants admitted that they cut a hole in the fence and walked into the airport. They said they were doing this to protest the United States’ military use of Shannon as a stopover en route to and from areas such as the Middle East, where the military is involved.

Put compassion aside

In his closing speech to the jury on Friday, Tony McGillicuddy BL admitted, going on, that the jury may have sympathy for the two defendants.

“They are honest and honorable persons,” he said. “That is not up for discussion and is not up for discussion.”

He recalled the evidence of every airport official and garda in the trial describing “how respectful and courteous they were”.

But McGillicuddy said the jury should put sympathy aside and consider the law in the case.

Regarding the criminal damage counts, the jury was told it had to consider whether the accused men in damaging the fence honestly believed their actions were justified in order to protect others.

McGillicuddy said the prosecution was that the men had no such legitimate excuse. He said there was no evidence that any ammunition or weapons were on board the plane. He said there was no evidence regarding the need to protect individuals.

“They were there for educational purposes and the training of law enforcement officers,” said Mr. McGillicuddy. He said they “made a political statement, drew attention to matters, brought matters to the fore”.

“That may be very understandable, but it is not a legal excuse under the Criminal Damage Act,” he said.

With regard to the allegation of interference in the operation, security and management of an airport, Mr McGillicuddy argued that the presence of the men on the taxiway at Shannon Airport caused the airport’s closure.

On the charge of trespassing with intent to damage or disrupt property, the prosecution said the men admitted entering the airport grounds and told officials they were there to inspect an aircraft.

“There is no evidence that there was anything illegal at Shannon Airport on that date,” McGillicuddy said.

He told the jury that any “scruples, claims, disputes, concerns or concerns” should have been properly reported to authorities. He urged the jury to return guilty verdicts on all six counts.

Michael Hourigan BL, who defended Mr Mayers, told the jury that it was about the legality of the two men’s actions and the fair and reasonable beliefs they held.

He said the prosecution’s description of the man as sincere and honorable was “a tacit concession that what they tell you they believe is a sincere and honest position on their part”.

This was not some sort of “political stance,” but a genuine belief that the actions they took that day could save lives, the jury was told.

Mr Mayers told the jury of “an ethical and moral obligation he felt, based on everything he had been through and everything he knew,” said Mr Hourigan.

Regarding the prosecution’s claim that there were no weapons on board the plane that day, Huorigan noted that no airport official inspected the plane, nor was it customary to inspect US military aircraft at Shannon Airport.

“You don’t have to determine whether there were weapons on board or whether there was a violation of Irish neutrality,” Hourigan said. “It’s about whether these sincere and honorable men are sincere and honorable when they tell you, ‘This is what I believe, and this is what I did.'”

He told the judges that when they reach the age of 85 they might “do something other than stand in the mud in a wet field in Clare”.

“But that’s what he (Mr Mayers) felt he needed to do to protect human lives.”

Mr Hourigan argued that constitutional democracy is much more than the letter of the law.

“The jury is the lamp that shows that freedom is alive,” he said, quoting an old legal saying. “Be the lamp and show that freedom lives. The only way you can do that is by issuing verdicts of no-fault.”

In her closing speech, Carol Doherty BL, who defended Mr. Kauff, said that she accepted everything that Mr. Hourigan had submitted.

She told the jury that “the best thing about the law in Ireland” is that there is a built-in mechanism to ensure that in the right circumstances a person cannot be convicted of criminal damages, provided they can show that they sincerely believed that their actions were lawful.

She recalled her client’s evidence to the jury that he believed the plane in Shannon was an “American war machine” en route to war-torn Yemen.

With regard to the charge of disrupting operations at the airport, Ms Doherty said the airport was closed to prevent anyone else from being at the airport, not because her client was walking past a taxiway.

She said no airline has lost money as a result of the airport’s closure and delays have been minimal.

Regarding the allegation that the men intended to cause criminal harm, Ms Doherty noted that when he was met by the airport officer, Mr Kauff was carrying a phone, his wallet and a folded banner and nothing else.

Ms Doherty said Mr Kauff has devoted his life to peaceful protest.

“People who go against the grain can make a difference,” she said. “It’s reasonable to assume that Mr. Kauff and Mr. Mayers may have made a difference. Hope is a powerful thing. The fact that hopes were not realized on this occasion does not mean that this action was not justified.”

The trial continues before Judge Patricia Ryan.

Leave a Comment