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.