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Thursday, 10 May 2007

Final Resolution of Indiana vs. Grimshaw

As promised, here is the latest, and concluding, chapter in the religious persecution case of Mr. Grimshaw, arrested on a sidewalk outside the Linway Plaza Cinema in Goshen, Indiana for protesting the first showing of "The Da Vinci Code."

At this trial, most of the witnesses were armed with handguns; some of them with electric shock devices. Maybe that wasn't anything particularly unusual, but many other aspects of this trial which was scheduled at the top of the docket for this afternoon at the City Court of Goshen were. In the first place, the defendant refused counsel, preferring to represent himself. The judge admonished him in her opening remarks that he could make objections, but only on the basis of established courtroom decorum, and that as the judge she could not advise him on such; he was on his own. Well, this turned out to be technically, but not actually, the case. He got a little help later on, from an unexpected source.

The first and only objection to be made by parties to the case turned out to be offered by the prosecutor, and it was sustained by the judge. More on that later.

The prosecutor opened the trial by calling as witnesses the police officers who had responded to the call by the manager of Linway Cinema. The first three officers gave stories that pretty well lined up with each other. It was as follows:

The manager of the theater called to report that a group of about seven people, some of them juveniles, led by the defendant were standing on the privately owned sidewalk outside the theater with signs that read "Boycott Blasphemy" and had refused to leave when asked. The police sent an officer, then two more, who finally took the defendant into custody when he refused to leave the private sidewalk that ran along the theater and several other businesses in the plaza, including an Indiana Department of Transportation License Branch office. After being cited and released, he returned alone to the scene of his crime, whereupon he was arrested by the Plaza security guard and taken to the Elkart County Jail for incarceration.

In cross-examination of the first witness, Mr. Grimshaw established that:
-He was not being violent
-He was not obstructing access to the theater
-He was not intimidating any of the customers entering the theater

This was undermined by later testimony of the Cinema owner, who implied that Mr. Grimshaw was a hazard to the safety of the theater. A police detective also testified that she was at the scene, with her squad car, in police uniform (as was her regular practice), but primarily acting in her private capacity as a moonlighting security guard at the theater. She testified that it was she who arrested Mr. Grimshaw the second time and put him in her squad car while awaiting the arrival of more police officers. She stated that Mr. Grimshaw's team was "standing in front of the entry and exit doors," which was further capitalized upon by the prosecutor, who asked the manager if Mr. Grimshaw had asked his permission "to block the doors." The manager also testified that a customer had come into the theater, visibly irate that someone was being allowed to protest the movie on the sidewalk outside. It was at this point that he conferred with the owner and called the police for the first time.

All witnesses emphasized that they had informed Mr. Grimshaw that he was welcome to protest on the public sidewalk on the other side of the Plaza parking lot, but that he had insisted that his business was where the movie was being shown--right in front of the "No Loitering" signs.

In his only effective cross-examination, Mr Grimshaw elicited an admission from the Plaza owner that while protesting along Lincoln Avenue might have provided free publicity, and thus more business for his theater, protesting directly in front of the building interfered with the retail business he was conducting there (it was not brought up in court, but after reading the informative pamphlet that the protest team was distributing (authored by Mr. Grimshaw), one theatergoer decided not to watch the movie and even protested to the management). In response to a question by the prosecution, the manager could not confirm that the theater had suffered any identifiable loss as a result of the protest.

But it was when he attempted to cross-examine the theater manager (son of the Plaza owner) that Mr. Grimshaw ran afoul of the Court Rules. He said something to the effect,
"I appear before a judge today for trespassing. Some day you will appear before the Judge of All the Earth to answer for your trespasses. What will say to Him in your defense when you have to answer for having shown a movie that blasphemes him, just to make money?"

At this point the prosecutor calmly objected that the defendant was speculating about the personal theology of the witness, which had no bearing in the case, and the judge agreed, helpfully explaining to the defendant why this was unacceptable in an American court.

Mr. Grimshaw was then invited to testify in his defense. The essence of his defense was that the prosecutor had done a good job of laying out the facts of the case, and that the police officers had done their job of arresting him very courteously and professionally--a most unusual defense! He went on to state that in fact he offered no defense, but neither would he offer an apology. He further stated his willingness to suffer whatever punishment the judge levied against him.

The prosecutor took advantage of his cross-examination of the defendant to remind the court that Mr. Grimshaw could have carried out his protest in a legal manner, but had chosen not to. Then he began his closing statement.

There was one more objection not very far into it. It all began when the prosecutor began to bring Mr. Grimshaw's motivations into the case, as if they had any bearing on his undisputed guilt. He mentioned Mr. Grimshaw's desire to be "a martyr," thus bringing religious terminology back into a case from which it had already been ejected. But that was not the only ejection to take place in the courtroom this day.

When the prosecutor went so far as to state, "I've seen the Da Vinci Code. I have a copy of it on DVD, and I'm a Christian. . ." one member of the gallery had taken enough. He raised his hand and called out clearly, "OBJECTION! Can you please keep your religion out of this?"

At this unthinkable breach of courtroom decorum, the well-armed bailiff hastened over to the side door and ushered the outspoken observer from the courtroom. He pointed to a chair in the hallway and ordered the observer to sit there, "and if you say another word, you're going to jail. Do you understand?"

The observer must have understood, and furthermore must have preferred to stay out of jail, as he spoke not another word until the court case was concluded.

Meanwhile, back in the courtroom, the prosecutor hastily ended his concluding remarks without any further speculation about theology (his or the defendant's), and the defendant was then allowed to have the last word.

It was brief. Looking right at the prosecutor, he stated,
"You claim to be a Christian. Supposedly, so did Judas Iscariot."
This time there was no objection, and the court ruled the defendant guilty as charged on two counts of criminal trespass.

The prosecutor agreed to immediate sentencing, and at his suggestion a sentence of $50 fine, plus court costs, was handed down, the sentence to be doubled due to the two arrests. It turned out, in total (less suspension), to be only a little more than the "Pre-trial Deferment" agreement that the court had originally offered the defendant nearly a year previous!

One final note here: I call this a Religious Persecution case not because of the legal outcome of the case, but because of the attitude exhibited by all parties to the prosecution: to wit, that blaspheming Christ through a perversion of history and the promotion of a proven hoax is an unassailable form of protected public expression, but objecting to the same in an equally public manner is not only culturally deviant, but punishably criminal. This point was driven home by the prosecutor's pejorative choice of words and the judge's explicit acceptance thereof, with only one lone--and quickly squelched--voice raised in protest of this injustice.

When what used to be considered wrong becomes lawful, sooner or later what used to be considered right becomes unlawful.

It's happening.

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