Judge Rules a Mistrial in the Case Against Climate Activists Who Blocked Portland Railroad Tracks

Five out of six jurors voted to acquit.

Ken Ward (Joe Michael Riedl)

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Heidi Moawad ruled a mistrial Thursday after a jury couldn't reach a verdict in the case of five climate activists who built a garden on top of Portland train tracks in April of 2019, blocking the route to Zenith Energy Management, an oil company.

The defendants include Ken Ward, a nationally known climate activist from Corbett, Ore., along with Jan Zuckerman, Margaret Butler, Mike Horner, and Emily Carl. The climate activists were charged with criminal trespass, which is a misdemeanor.

There is little debate over whether or not the defendants committed the crime in question. But their lawyers from the Civil Liberties Defense Center made a unique argument: the injury or harm caused by trespassing is less than the injury or harm caused by the climate change, which the activists were protesting.

The climate necessity defense, as it's called, has never resulted in an acquittal. The defendants considered yesterday's outcome a victory. Five out of six jurors voted to acquit, according to the defense team.

"It is not a victory in any traditional sense, because we shouldn't have had to take this action to begin with, given the climate catastrophe, but it is a vindication of our call for climate activists to use a climate necessity defense," Ward said in a statement.

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