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Drone protesters found guilty of trespassing at Beale AFB

The first of the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles arrives at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., Oct. 28, 2004.

A Sacramento federal judge Monday found four people who protested the Obama administration’s use of killer drones outside a gate at Beale Air Force Base last spring to be guilty of trespassing.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Allison Claire sentenced the four to 90 days of unsupervised probation, which will end for each defendant after he or she completes 10 hours of community service.

The maximum punishment on the misdemeanors is six months in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The case was tried in less than a day before Claire, who refused to give the protestors a jury trial, though it was within her discretion to do so.

The defendants – Mari Toby Blome, 58, of El Cerrito; William C. Doub, 78, of Camptonville; Martha E. Hubert, 60, of San Francisco; and Robin L. Ryan, 47, of San Francisco – are the second group of peace advocates in less than six months to be convicted at a non-jury trial in Sacramento federal court of penetrating the boundary of the Yuba County air force base.

Prosecutors fought to keep the cases away from a jury. Defense attorneys are convinced that prosecution fears “juror nullification,” which occurs when jurors ignore the law because they disagree with it, or because they believe it should not be applied in the case before them.

While milling around April 30 outside the Wheatland gate in the southwest corner of the base, the four defendants stepped across a “demarcation line,” marked by white paint, that is within the outer boundary of the base but well short of the gate itself.

Master Sgt. Michael Hodgden, a security manager at Beale, testified the demonstrators were repeatedly warned not to cross the line, but the defendants ignored the warnings.

“We need to prosecute people who have guilty minds and convict people with guilty hearts,” not people who seek to express their disapproval of “criminal and immoral acts of their government,” defense lawyer Mark Reichel told Claire in his closing remarks. “Their purpose was lawful and heartfelt, and the government has no evidence to the contrary.”

Beale has been a target of anti-drone protests for years. It is home to the U-2, the venerable 1950s spy plane, and the unmanned Global Hawk, an unarmed reconnaissance drone that some describe as an “accomplice” to strikes later carried out by armed drones. It gives a theater commander a broad overview and pinpoint target surveillance.

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