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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Climate trial resumes

By Rita Totten

Tim DeChristopher’s freedom rests on a memo and a DVD.

In support of his necessary-evil defense, environmental activist and U senior in economics DeChristopher and his legal team submitted a memo and a DVD on Monday to Judge Dee Benson that included testimony from experts on climate change.

DeChristopher and his lawyers are trying to prove that his actions were justified at the Bureau of Land Management auction last December, where he placed bids and won 14 land parcels without having the capital to pay for them, a violation of federal law. DeChristopher, a senior in economics at the U, argues that he acted to prevent climate change by protecting the land from oil and gas companies.

At a hearing Sept. 27 to determine the validity of DeChristopher’s defense, Benson said he was reluctant to put climate change on trial and granted DeChristopher 30 days to develop a memo with written and taped testimony from experts supporting the defense’s claim that DeChristopher acted for the greater good.

In the memo, his defense attorneys, Ron Yengich and Pat Shea, outline the witnesses and experts they would call on to give testimony in court to support the necessary-evil defense by saying the crime doesn’t outweigh the consequences of not acting. A DVD of charts and video clips that demonstrate the existing environmental destruction of climate change was also submitted to the court.

The memo states that “the court is asked to rule that a reasonable juror could find that global warming and climate change, and the other environmental and cultural results of the lease sale at issue, were greater evils than the offenses with which DeChristopher stands charged.”

What the defense is trying to establish is that people can achieve what the defense want in a nonviolent fashion, Shea said.

The government will ask for 20 to 30 days to respond to the memorandum, Shea said. They will probably get 10 days to respond, Shea said.

Jon Warnow, Internet director, organizer of Pacific & Polar Regions and business liaison at, an organization that supports legislation that reduces carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, is featured in a clip warning against carbon emissions. Warnow said climate change is affected by the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The current rate is an annual increase of two parts per million.

“Three hundred and fifty symbolizes safety,” Warnow said of the maximum amount of carbon dioxide in parts per million scientists have deemed safe to exist in the atmosphere.

The prosecution filed a motion several months ago to ban DeChristopher from using a necessity defense, because it fears a jury would be swayed by his climate change plight and not rule solely on the facts surrounding the case.

The defense’s chances in Benson’s court aren’t optimistic. Last month, Benson said he is reluctant to open up his courtroom to a debate on climate change in a simple matter of determining whether DeChristopher broke the law.

Yengich said he didn’t want to handicap their chances by speculating whether the memo and DVD will work.

“We think it should be accepted, and we hope that it is,” Yengich said.

DeChristopher said at a climate change awareness rally Saturday that he might go to prison in January, when the court proceedings are expected to end. But even if he does, he said he will go down fighting a system that needs to change to save Earth from the consequences of climate change.

“I think the odds are on the government’s side,” Shea said of the defense’s chance to get its “choice of evils defense” accepted.

ea said Benson will probably make his decision around Thanksgiving.
“And I hope it’s not a (no),” Shea said.

DeChristopher did not respond for comment. The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment.

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