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Enbridge 'necessity defense' trial begins in Minnesota

Activists are seen attempting to cut chains after trespassing into a valve station for pipelines carrying crude from Canadian oils sands into the U.S. markets near Clearbrook, Minnesota, in this image released on October 11, 2016. Courtesy Climate Direct Action/Handout via REUTERS

BAGLEY, Minn.—The jury trial for three defendants charged with property damage to an oil pipeline in 2016 started Monday in the Clearwater County Courthouse.

The trial stems from a mid-October 2016 incident when the defendants used bolt cutters to gain access to an Enbridge pipeline facility near Leonard.

Emily Johnston, of Seattle, has been charged with causing property damage to a pipeline. Both Annette Klapstein, of Bainbridge Island, Wash., and Benjamin Joldersma, of Seattle, have been charged with aiding the property damage of a pipeline. All three defendants have pleaded not guilty and were in court Monday, Oct. 8, in Bagley.

A fourth person involved in the original incident, Steven Liptay, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was originally charged in the event but was not part of the trial Monday, although he was in the audience.

The tampering at the Enbridge facility near Leonard was part of a coordinated effort by Climate Direct Action, which carried out similar actions at oil facilities in North Dakota, Washington and Montana, on Oct. 11, 2016.

In court Monday, Judge Robert Tiffany informed the jury pool that while the three defendants were joined together in one case, their charges were to be considered independently of one another.

There were three attorneys representing the defendants in court Monday, Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Eugene, Ore.; Kelsey Skaggs of the Climate Defense Project in San Francisco; and Twin-Cities based attorney Timothy Phillips.

Alan Rogalla, Clearwater County attorney, is prosecuting the case for the state.

The first day of the trial dealt with jury selection. In addition to a host of routine questions, the pool of potential jurors were asked where they stood on climate change, which is specifically related to the motives of the defendants.

In October 2017, Tiffany ruled that the defendants could use the "necessity defense," which essentially means the defendants can claim they had to perform the crime to prevent greater harm. In this case, the defendants say the greater harm is climate change that is impacted by oil pipelines.

Tiffany's ruling on the necessity defense was appealed until it reached the Minnesota State Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case after the Minnesota Court of Appeals supported the defendants.

Those in the jury pool Monday provided a range of answers to the question of climate change. While some said they don't believe in global warming, others said they not only believed in global warming but that humans are a contributing factor. Still others said they believed the climate is changing, but they don't necessarily attribute that to the use of fossil fuels or other human-related activity.

The jurors also were asked if they thought it was permissible to violate the law if it was done for a moral belief.

Many of the jurors said "no." A few, however, gave slightly more lenient answers. For example, one potential juror said although she thought it was permissible to break the law for a moral belief, the person should also be ready to accept the consequences of doing so.

At the end of proceedings, the jury pool was dismissed after the prosecution and defense agreed on a group of individuals who would be acceptable as jurors. After the jury pool was dismissed, both the prosecution and the defense began to pare down the group to a list of 12 jurors and two alternates.The jury is expected to be finalized and seated Tuesday morning.

Jordan Shearer

Jordan Shearer covers crime and social issues for the Bemidji Pioneer. A Rochester native and Bemidji State grad, he previously spent several years in western Nebraska writing for the Keith County News. Follow him on Twitter @Jmanassa

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