NEWPORT - The Lowell Six - protesters charged with trespassing on Lowell Mountain where Green Mountain Power is building a wind turbine farm - were found guilty by jury at 8 PM last night. The state has asked for a restitution hearing and no sentence has been handed down.
The jury trial was held before a packed house made up mostly of supporters and opponents of industrial wind development, media personnel and protesters who were arrested at the same location this month. The protesters held a rally outside the courthouse where they beat drums and symbols.
The 12 jurors were sent to deliberate at about 4 p.m.
The group known as the Lowell Six were arrested on Lowell Mountain on Dec. 5, 2011, for trespassing. They were protesting the construction of industrial sized wind turbines by Green Mountain Power (GMP), however they stayed on property that is under dispute.
GMP is leasing the property from Trip Wileman, but adjacent landowners Shirley and Don Nelson say that a portion of that land, where GMP's crane path lies, is actually their land. The matter is before a civil court and has yet to be determined.
The Nelsons are among those opposing the development.
The court heard a great deal of the testimony centered around surveying techniques and history. Two different surveyors have come to different conclusions on where the property line lies between the Nelsons and Wileman. The attorneys went over several exhibits of maps of the area with the witnesses.
When GMP leased the land, it relied on the land records on file with the Town of Lowell. But the Nelsons say those records are incorrect.
The Nelsons and Wileman had conflicting ideas about where the property line was and had worked out an agreement, however that agreement did not include Parcel 8, where the protesters were arrested, because Wileman had acquired that land later.
Other testimony had to do with whether or not the Nelsons allowed or encouraged guests on their property, and whether or not those were allowed on the disputed property. The Nelsons said they always allow visitors on their property at any time. The Nelsons specifically gave defendant Robert Holland measurements on where he believed the line to be and that is where the protesters stayed while the arrest took place.
The state called Andrew Nadeau, who owns Blais Surveying and has the original maps done on the property, GMP officials, Orleans County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Sheriff Phil Brooks, and Don Nelson to testify.
From the stand, Holland said that he had been protesting about GMP taking a section of Nelson's land for their project.
Judge Martin Maley reminded the jurors that the state has the burden of proof and that the defendants are innocent unless the evidence and testimony showed them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Orleans County State's Attorney Sarah Baker told the jury that the evidence shows the defendants entered land in possession by GMP, and entered despite signs warning not to trespass. They were asked to leave by law enforcement but choose to be arrested instead, she said.
Barker reminded the jury that an easement gave GMP the right to exclude people from their property for safety reasons. Baker also stated that there is no other recorded survey that shows the property line is something other than where GMP is claiming. She said the defendants, Robert Holland, Ryan Gilliard, Suzanna Jones, Anne Morse, Eric Wallace-Senft, and David Rodgers, should be found guilty of unlawful trespass.
The defendants' attorney, Kristina Michelsen, in her closing, said that the state failed to prove where the line is. She argued that GMP says where the line is out of convenience for the wind project. A turbine could not be built further west in the disputed location due to steep and rough terrain.
She said who had lawful possession wasn't proven in court beyond a reasonable doubt and the jury must acquit for that reason. She added that someone cannot make you leave land if they are not in lawful possession of it.
GMP plans to have the project finished by the end of December.