Abortion protesters found guilty of trespassing

Asheville activist Meredith Hunt and two of his children were guilty of trespassing on the campus of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College last October during an abortion protest, a jury decided after a trial in Buncombe County Superior Court on Wednesday.

The trial took the better part of the day, but the jury deliberated only about 15 minutes before reaching its verdict. Judge Dennis Winner sentenced Meredith Hunt, Anna Hunt and Arthur Hunt to one year of unsupervised probation and required them to pay court costs. They are also barred from entering college campuses unless its for educational purposes. Meredith Hunt was assessed an additional $200 fine.

The case was unusual because most misdemeanor charges such as trespassing result in guilty pleas or are settled out of court.

The elder Hunt has been a long-time outspoken opponent of abortion. He’s taken his opposition to the streets through sidewalk protests and has run, unsuccessfully, for public office.

On Oct. 2, 2007, a group of about 15 protesters arrived on the AB-Tech campus and stood in a student hangout area known as “the deck.” Some protesters carried large signs depicting what they said were the bloody bodies of aborted fetuses, while others handed out fliers or used video cameras to record encounters with students. Asheville Police Department officers were called to the scene to stop the protest, which school administrators had deemed unruly. Eight people were arrested.

During the course of the trial, AB-Tech’s vice president of student services, Dennis King, testified that he approached the protesters when they first arrived and asked them to move from the campus quad to a “free speech zone” on Victoria Road. The protesters declined, and King allowed them to stay. He said he deemed the event disruptive about two hours later after he received a report that a campus security guard had been shoved and after three faculty members “approached me in a highly agitated fashion and demanded that the protesters be removed.”

Asheville Police Lt. Wally Welch testified that he asked protesters to move, then followed up with a standard request: “Is there anything I can say or do to gain your voluntary compliance?” When protesters didn’t respond or responded negatively, they were arrested, Welch said. Assistant District Attorney Meredith Pressley played part of a police-department videotape made the day of the protest that showed Welch in action.

Meredith Hunt said he met up with members of the Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust who were visiting from out of town and joined their protest. College-aged women are statistically more likely to consider abortion, Hunt testified, “and I thought it was important they see the truth about abortion.”

Hunt said that he had nothing to do with the shoving incident and that he didn’t respond when he was asked to move. Anna Hunt, who has been attending AB-Tech but was not enrolled last October, and Arthur Hunt, an AB-Tech student, also said they participated in the protest but were not disruptive.

Judge Winner instructed the jury that it was required to find the Hunts guilty if the jury decided that the Hunts were acting in concert with a group. If some members of a group stop being peaceful, a public entity such as the college has the right to ask the entire group to leave, Winner told the jury.

Meredith Hunt said the judge’s instructions were inappropriate, and added that he plans to appeal the decision.

“We would like AB-Tech to open up to free speech,” Hunt said outside the courtroom. “I believe we had a right to be there.”

— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor

This video was shot by members of the protest group on the campus of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College on Oct. 2, 2007.

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13 thoughts on “Abortion protesters found guilty of trespassing

  1. Matt Mercy

    “Judge Winner instructed the jury that it was required to find the Hunts guilty if the jury decided that the Hunts were acting in concert with a group.”

    I’m sorry, but the jury is not “required” to do anything but their constitutional duty. I’m not weighing in on the abortion thing, but if anyone reading this serves on a jury, don’t let these judges intimidate you into a decision or distort how you are to arrive at a decision.

    • JLawrence Smith

      It’s not like the judge has any power to punish jurors if they ignore his instructions. Through history they have done it– COMMITTED JURY NULLIFICATION — a million times, as in most recently a jury nullification case against a marijuana grower in Montana. And in prosecutions against members of the Underground Railroad who transported slaves from the South to freedom before the end of the Civil War juries have left their mark. A judge in the days of Jonathan Swift instructed an Irish jury in Dublin to find that a “Drapier Letter” penned by Swift was “wicked and seditious.” The jury refused, even after the judge had threatened all 12 of them with severe punishment.

      I have seen jury nullification in Asheville, but in Hunt’s case he is just a corrupt noise blabbermouth meddling with the rights of the college, and with innocent people.

    • Meredith Eugene Hunt

      Our first jury trial in this case ended in a mistrial when one of the jurors conducted his own research by reading his old AB Tech student handbook overnight and was kicked off the jury. For some reason the alternate juror had been released. So, we didn’t have enough people for it to be a constitutionally valid jury.

      In that trial, Superior Court Judge James Baker had instructed the jury on second degree trespass by citing the language of the NC General Statutes and then quoting from State v. Marcopolos 154 N.C. App. 581 (2002) where it says “If, however, the premises are open to the public, the occupants of those premises have the implied consent of the owner/lessee/possessor to be on the premises, and that consent can be revoked only upon some showing the occupants have committed acts sufficient to render the implied consent void.”

      It was our argument that whatever the five out-of-town people did, my son my daughter, and I had not committed acts sufficient to render the implied consent void. The other people arrested at AB Tech that day, despite their boisterous words heard on the video, all plead guilty so as to avoid costly return trips to Asheville for court.

      In the second trial, Judge Dennis Winner refused to give the jury those instructions and instead came up with the “acting in concert” idea. He told our attorney after the trial that he thought he was helping us because he believed it was clear we were not acting in concert with the others.

  2. Melissa

    The constant question in the video of if it’s public property is stupid. Colleges don’t count as public property really. And anything considered a disturbance is cause for police involvement. I agree that abortion is rarely a good idea, but I disagree with the way some protesters go about forcing their opinion on others. Everyone has a right to make the decision themselves and most abortion clinics actually spend about 2 hours trying to convince you NOT to get an abortion. If you still want one after that, then it’s your own decision.

    • Meredith Eugene Hunt

      AB Technical Community College had created what is called in case law a “limited public forum.”

      Over the past 10 years I have been on more than 50 university campuses all over the SE and elsewhere with the Genocide Awareness Project, a large mural of panels depicting photos of aborted children. In North Carolina, we’ve been twice to UNCA, Western Carolina, UNC, NCSU, UNC-Charlotte, and once to Appalachian State. (We’ve been 2x to Clemson, too.) With this project, because of its size, we always work with university officials to comply with their requirements, including securing a student organization as sponsors. However, many, in fact most universities allow unannounced, walk-on handheld displays like we brought to AB Tech. (We did this once at East TN State.) Usually universities limit our placement to certain “free speech zones,” which always are in high foot traffic areas, such as near the main student center or at intersections of major sidewalks.

      When some of us with the group who were arrested at AB Tech walked on to the campus of UNCA the day before, the campus police asked us to move to their designated free speech zone near the dining hall, and we complied. AB Tech, however, offered as their “free speech zone” the public sidewalk along Victoria Road, which, while in the middle of campus, was not actually governable by the college. Because AB Tech prohibits smoking on campus, it’s where smokers go. The decision of the group was to stay in the deck area, which is more or less the outdoor social center of the college. Dennis King, a Dean or a VP at the time, himself admitted in a private conversation with my son, who was an active student, that he owed my son an apology for having him arrested. Never-the-less, they did not dismiss the charges against him, but compelled him to go through a District Court trial and two jury trials. (My son went on to complete nursing school at ABT and is now working as an RN.) King also admitted he was not concerned that our presence on the deck was itself disruptive. His fear—an unreasonable fear—was that we would go inside classrooms. When I asked if I could use the restroom (leaving all literature and signs outside) the campus police refused to give permission and I complied, though not happily.

      The turning point in the day, when AB Tech made the decision to arrest us, came after we had been there peaceably for four hours and when one of the out-of-town people, apparently, belly-bumped an (overweight) female campus police officers who was getting close to him. I didn’t even know about this incident until much later. That event probably turned the jury against us in the second trial, even though the officer admitted that neither I nor my two children were involved.

      For more information on the Genocide Awareness Project, go to : http://abortionno.org/college-campus-outreach-gap/

  3. Matt Mercy

    DonM

    Thanks for the link. Of course a judge may “advise” or “instruct”, but I’m a bit skeptical about jurors being “required” to find guilt or innocence based on the judges instructions “regardless of what the jurors believe the law is or ought to be.”

    I know this is the ABA’s own website, but is it possible they are taking a revisionist approach towards jurisprudence?

  4. DonM

    Matt,
    The judge was merely being very clear to the jury that the verdict of guilty would have been necessary if the jury found that the defendants were “acting in concert with a group.” That, evidently, was the salient point and Judge Winner was instructing the jury to keep their focus on the elements of the applicable law.

    I see no revisionist approach towards jurisprudence as judges have always instructed juries on a range of jurisprudence, including this example.

  5. Reality Check

    Seems like a simple case of civil disobedience. They protested and were peacefully arrested. Everyone behaved like adults. Thoreau would be proud.

  6. Eric Gorny

    I believe the judge was wrong. The Hunts were charged with second degree trespassing. The Judge instructed the jury to find them guilty of being associated with another group. They are two different things. Also Anna and Aurther Hunt are both students at AB-Tech. One was enrolled one was waiting until the next semester to continue classes. How can a student be guilty of trespassing on a campus they are members of?
    As for the Judge, will he now hold people guilty of being associated with all groups? Where will this stop?

  7. Reality Check

    Other groups WILL be found guilty if ABTech doesn’t like the cause of the protesters.

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