By Jane Stoever
Shock. The courtroom, with about 25 supporters of the defendant, was steeled to hear Judge Anne LaBella say, “Guilty.” The case had been heard. All indicators were that Ann Suellentrop, who pleaded not guilty to committing the crime of trespass on May 29, Memorial Day, at the massive KC MO nuclear weapon production plant, would be declared guilty and most likely endure a lengthy appeal process. The prosecutor had repeatedly objected to Suellentrop’s statements and those of her one witness, retired lawyer Henry Stoever, and only once did the judge not sustain the objections.
The judge made sure Suellentrop had no further comments. The city rested its case. Then, all of a sudden, the prosecutor saw fit to ask the judge to “amend the charge” against Suellentrop. The prosecutor asked that the name Honeywell be added to the charge, since the charge said she trespassed at the Kansas City National Security Campus without mentioning Honeywell Federal Manufacturing and Technologies, which administers the NSC. During the hour-long trial, the prosecutor’s witness had identified himself as a Honeywell lieutenant, a guard. In effect, the complaining witness did not precisely match the charge.
LaBella calmly told the prosecutor concerning the charge, “No. It will stay as it is.” The amendment request came too late. Labella firmly told Ann, “I find you not guilty,” and advised, “You may go now.”
A technicality? A thin thread the judge used because she had reason to believe no crime was committed?
We’ll never know. The result: stunning.
During the trial, Suellentrop was able to bring up significant aspects of the case. “We all live under the threat of nuclear war, the threat of nuclear terrorism,” she told LaBella. Giving her own background, Suellentrop said, “I am a pediatric nurse with a 45-year career. I am a Catholic. I have taken many seminars on Catholic social justice teaching. I am a follower of Father Charles Emmanuel McCarthy, who focuses on the nonviolence of Jesus.”
The prosecutor objected, “This is all in the trial brief,” a 36-page document Suellentrop submitted a week before the trial. Indeed, the trial brief notes that the US is revamping all the nuclear weapons in its arsenal. The judge sustained the prosecutor’s objection, asking Suellentrop, “What happened that day?”
“I participated in the PeaceWorks events,” said Suellentrop, a vice chair of PeaceWorks. “I walked one mile on the public sidewalk, participated in the prayers and songs, and did the die-in to mourn the sick workers and the people who died as a result of the toxins at the (old) plant.” Suellentrop added, “I crossed the line to make known my objection to nuclear weapon production.” She noted the plant is one of eight major US plants engaged in nuclear weapon production and maintenance.
“I did not have the mens rea, the criminal mind,” she said. “I was doing it (crossing the line) as a protest.”
As Suellentrop questioned her witness, Stoever, he said he contacts both the NSC guards and the local police in advance of the annual Memorial Day action so they will not be surprised. He goes early to the NSC road and shakes the officers’ hands as they await the protesters. He assures them we will be nonviolent. “There are no hostilities,” he told the court.
Supporters were asked to quietly leave the courtroom after the verdict and headed outside to celebrate. They congratulated Suellentrop, who said she knew she was not on the witness stand by herself—we were all with her. She thanked Stoever for his assistance in preparing for the trial. He reflected, “We can look at this in a narrow way, but the big picture is that we are all living on death row with the threat of extinction from these weapons. And by now, we have had about 175 instances of persons crossing the line in protest.” Turning to the defendant, he said, “We applaud your courage, Ann!” And we all cheered.
One of the supporters, Ursuline Sister Angela Fitzpatrick, told Stoever as they left the courthouse in surprise at the “not guilty” verdict, “God is good. God is great!”
Suellentrop later said we are living at a critical point in time with two hot wars (genocidal with civilians being targeted) involving nuclear weapons states and threats being made to use the nuclear weapons.
–Jane Stoever is a PeaceWorks KC writer who is married to Ann Suellentrop’s legal adviser, Henry Stoever. (c) 2023, Jane Stoever, Ann Suellentrop, Henry Stoever, Kriss Avery, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International License.