... and Back Again

We got back into Toronto last night at around 9:30, from the sentencing hearing that saw our friend Peter Watts avoid jail time. The crossing back from Port Huron was happily uneventful - particularly as we passed the spot on the bridge where, in December, U.S. Customs and Border official Andrew Beaudry beat and pepper-sprayed Peter without any rational cause, then presented a spurious allegation of assault that might have seen Peter in jail for as long as six months.

As I posted all too briefly yesterday *, that didn't happen. U.S. Circuit Court Judge James P. Adair rejected a pre-sentencing report recommending that Peter be sentenced to six months in jail - less two months, if he came up with about $2,000 in fines and fees - and set him free.

About a dozen of us came down from Toronto to listen to the sentencing and offer up our support. I think it had an impact. It had more impact, certainly, than the presence of officers Beaudry and Behrendt, who took time to attend the hearing but made tracks seconds after Judge Adair rendered his verdict.

The biggest impact, according to Peter's lawyer Doug Mullkoff, was probably from the juror who has posted on various blogs as proudinjun. She and her husband attended the trial hearing too, and wrote to Judge Adair, explaining that no one on the jury had thought Peter deserved jail time - and that she and some others put little credit in the account of the event given by Beaudry, Behrendt and the others. We met at the trial hearing, and Doug toasted her afterwards. She took enormous grief from her fellow jurors, from her neighbours (as represented by the trolls who comment on the Port Huron paper's website) and she didn't flinch. You want a hero in this story - proudinjun is it.

You don't want to underestimate Doug Mullkoff's impact, though. I'd never seen him in action until this moment, and man. That's a lawyer who earns his keep.

He started off tearing apart the sloppy work in the pre-sentencing report, which listed Peter as being a U.S. citizen, over-estimated his income, and downplayed the infirmity of his father by listing the 92-year-old widower's age as "unknown." He strung the various letters of support that Peter had received into a narrative that showed Peter to be non-violent, kind and thoughtful, milking that just as much as he could. He explained that Peter's questioning nature meant that he would not fare well in the military, but that shouldn't be a crime, and he characterized the incident at the border as a "goof up" that already had lasting consequences. He pointed out that the simple conviction meant that Peter would never, ever again enter the United States of America. He asked Judge Adair to exercise his prerogative, and suspend Peter's sentence if he paid his fines in full (which he would do immediately - Peter brought with him $2,000 in crisp U.S. greenbacks).

So Judge Adair rendered his lengthy verdict. He told Peter that he was a puzzle to him; that he thought he would enjoy having a pint with Peter (Peter told him he would buy; Adair said he would get the next round); spoke at great length about the need to listen to and obey police officers. He explained he could only render a verdict after he looked a person in the eye. Then he spoke again about what folly it was to disobey police officers. He messed with our heads, Judge Adair did, for what seemed like an hour but couldn't have been more than 15 minutes. And in the end, he agreed with Mullkoff; a suspended sentence of 60 days (less time served), if Peter paid his bills. In other words: no jail time, but a stiff fine.

We took the news pretty happily, the four of us in the car - me, Peter, his partner Caitlin and our friend Madeline**. The interview with the Canada Customs officer heading back home was giddy and incoherent; we left him smiling and shaking his head. We listened to Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joan Jett, Kansas and the like as we hauled back along 400 series highways in the late afternoon sun, and laughed and grinned like everything was finally okay.

Of course, everything is not okay. Peter doesn't go to jail. But he's a convicted felon now - convicted of not getting on the ground fast enough when U.S. border guards demanded it. He and the rest of us went through hell while the Michigan justice system played with his life like a cat plays with a mouse. That system and the people who thrive in it persist; Peter's life is forever diminished. 

And he did nothing wrong.

* thanks again to the Quay Street Brewing Company for letting us use their office computer and internet connection (try the Nutting Better Brown Ale - I also hear their wheat beer is very good).

** Madeline Ashby, that is. There's a link to click through on her name. Don't be shy. It takes you to Tor.com, where she has set down a heart-rending account of our day in Michigan, with far greater detail and emotional depth and beauty than you will find here at the Yard. It chokes me up every time I re-read it. It is, once again, right here.