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Judge Dismisses Three of Seven Bank Protesters of All Charges, Fines DA's Office

A preliminary hearing for seven bank protesters ended today, with three dismissed on all charges, the felony conspiracy charge thrown out, and four recieving holding orders.

The preliminary hearing for the seven remaining "Santa Cruz 11" ended with three defendants let off the hook for good, and four receiving holding orders.

Judge P. Burdick also imposed a monetary sanction of $500 on the District Attorney's office—the first time he's ever had to do so—for violations in turning over evidence and other errors.

Desiree Foster, Becky Johnson and Robert Norse were the three defendants discharged on all counts against them, because Judge Burdick found evidence "insufficient" in placing these three at the scene of 75 River Street after the first day, and after police allegedly told them to leave.

The counts against all seven defendants were: Felony conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor, felony vandalism, misdemeanor trespass by entering and occupying and misdemeanor trespass by refusing to leave private property.

The DA's Office does have the power to re-submit these charges for those three dismissed, according to Alexis Briggs, lawyer for Cameron Laurendeau.

Judge Burdick also threw out the felony trespassing charge for all seven defendants, for lack of direct evidence.

"This, to all appearances seems to be a spontaneous entry into the building after the front door was opened with a key," said Judge Burdick.

"Consequently, considering all of the circumstances as it relates to all of the charges, I can't even infer that there was an agreement to commit a trespass crime, that there was an agreement to go into that building and occupy it and stay there even after law enforcement showed up with an agent of the bank and ordered persons to leave, so I'm not going to hold count one, the conspiracy charge against any of the defendants," he said.

The four remaining defendants, Brent Adams, Franklin "Angel" Alcantara, Gabriella Ripley-Phipps, and Cameron Laurendeau were given holding orders, which basically means the Judge found probable cause for legal proceedings to continue.

"I do not want this case to linger, we're going to move this one along," said Judge Burdick, and set their arraignment for Jan. 22 at 8:15 a.m.

The defense remains optimistic.

"There's a number of layers where you can challenge this holding order, so we are far from done with dealing with what the evidence presented in this preliminary hearing actually shows and what the law supports. But what is clear is that the district attorney's theory of the case utterly failed today in trying to charge a conspiracy," said Alexis Briggs.

"And the judge's finding that the first amendment was implicated meant that he held her to a stricter standard of a proof of direct conspiracy rather than circumstantial evidence of a conspiracy," said Briggs.

Briggs also said that the District Attorney of Santa Cruz had chilled freedom of speech with the filing of this case.

After the Judge's findings had been read, defendants and supporters embraced outside of the courtroom.

Becky Johnson, one of the lucky three, is excited to finally return to a classroom, since pending felony charges had gotten in the way of her teaching credentials.

"We're going to be in the courts, we're going to be supporting them the whole way. Because it was really a tremendous thing that these people did, to try to show the excesses of Wells Fargo, that they just have all these properties all blocked off," said Johnson.

Franklin Alcantara, defendant, is confident in his innocence, despite the holding order which requires him to reappear.

"I'm still feeling very confident that we will triumph over these charges, I know that I didn't have any involvement in these charges against me. I was just curious as to what was going on as well as up to 300 other people were there for whatever. I know in my heart that I'm innocent so I feel confident," said Alcantara.

On Monday, Sergeant Mike Harms testified that Alcantara had tampered with a security camera inside the bank, but Alcantara says he was training it on the police for his own safety:

"We were confronted by a large number of officers in riot gear that were very threatening and intimidating. I had witnessed them hitting an individual with a baton, and I had realized that there was a video camera and someone had repositioned it to face the ceiling, so what I did was position it back to it's original position to videotape anything that was occurring because I was concerned for my well being," said Alcantara.

Ripley-Phipps and Adams both declined comment.

Of the vandalism charges, Lisa McCamey, representing Adams, said:

"He's just not responsible, as a direct perpetrator or as an aider or abettor."

Previous testimony by Sgt. Harms alleged Adams moving furniture against the doors of the bank building.

Judge Burdick mentioned, in his final decision, that vandalism is a "natural and probable consequence of trespassing," citing a previous case.

"I disagree with the legal analysis, but you know we can take it up with the 995 motion," said McCamey.

Alexis Briggs later commented on the sanctioning of the District Attorney's office, saying that District Attorney Rebekah Young had made several mistakes.

"There's been a number of improper things done and I believe that those are the result of being overburdened by Bob Lee and the number of cases that they're filing, and the number of cases that they're requiring their district attorneys to handle," said Briggs. "He's been shown on video indicating that filing this case doesn't cost his office any more money because he pays the same salary regardless of the number of cases his district attorneys are required to handle, and when they're overburdened, they start to make mistakes. And that's what we're seeing here." 

Chris Jordan January 09, 2013 at 07:06 PM
Now how about the freezing homeless people in Salinas whose 300 blankets got ripped off [that has been on KSBW news]? They ARE homeless and deserve help - these courtroom puppets; not so much.

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