CINCINNATI (AP) — With only one of nine Greenpeace activists willing to accept a plea deal, a judge on Thursday set a trial date for the other eight on felony charges in an eye-catching protest at Procter & Gamble’s headquarters in downtown Cincinnati.
The eight protesters are scheduled to go on trial Oct. 27 for charges stemming from a protest that included huge banners hung from the company’s office towers and a tiger-suited activist dangling from a zip line between the buildings.
Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert C. Winkler said he’ll try to schedule it for a large courtroom because of the interest in the case.
Prosecutors said no more plea discussions are planned on the burglary and vandalism counts. They were offering agreements meant to ensure that the activists would avoid prison time by performing 80 hours of community service and paying for damages.
“This is a cause,” prosecutor Mark Piepmeier said after the hearing. “They’ve made that clear.”
Defense attorneys and prosecutors said just one protester is accepting the offer. Charles R. Long, 35, will return to Cincinnati in September to officially plead to a lower-level felony charge, they said. Attorney Bill Gallagher said Long had “personal reasons” for agreeing to a deal. Court documents list Long as from Oakland, California, but Greenpeace said he lives in Chicago.
Greenpeace blamed prosecution “scare tactics” for Long’s decision. Prosecutors said after a March indictment that the protesters could face more than nine years in prison if convicted.
“Threatening peaceful protesters with unfounded felony charges and long prison sentences only works to dissuade others from speaking up for a more just and sustainable society in peaceful ways,” Rolf Skar, director of Greenpeace’s Forest Campaign, said in a statement.
The defendants are charged in a March 4 protest in which activists slipped into P&G during business hours and hung banners criticizing palm oil supplies that Greenpeace links to rainforest destruction. A helicopter filmed as one costume-wearing activist hung from a line strung between the two towers.
Winkler on Thursday rejected a defense request for all P&G employee emails and other correspondence about the protest. Prosecutors said the request was overly burdensome, involving internal information about the consumer products giant that would be irrelevant to the case.
He will rule later on defense requests that the trial jury be allowed to visit P&G headquarters and that he order P&G to let the defense attorneys into the headquarters ahead of trial to take photos. The attorneys claim they can gather evidence at P&G to show that window and paver damage wasn’t caused by the protest. They say inspection of parts of the building unrelated to the protest will show similar damage from use, weather and other causes.
Damages have been estimated at as high as nearly $18,000 in court documents.
Greenpeace has said the activists were peacefully exercising their right to free speech. Prosecutors have argued that regardless of their political message, the activists committed crimes and caused damage, and also forced police, fire and other emergency responders to be called out.
Palm oil is commonly used in shampoo, cosmetics and other products. P&G, maker of global best-selling brands such as Pampers diapers, Tide detergent and Gillette shavers, announced April 8 that it has adopted a “no-deforestation” policy for its palm oil supply and will take steps to ensure traceability of supplies. Greenpeace called P&G’s announcement a huge step in protecting rainforests, while saying much work needs to be done.
P&G is scheduled to report its fourth-quarter earnings Friday.
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