No Crime Here, Jury Says

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In the first trial test of a new law, a Humboldt County jury decided this morning that the three people who lit candles outside the county courthouse after 9:30 p.m. did nothing illegal.

The verdict comes despite the county's attempt to ban most people from being on courthouse grounds between 9:30 p.m. and 6 a.m.

"I think it will send a message," said Deputy Public Defender Casey Russo. "This decision shows that it will be very difficult to prosecute these cases."

Russo said one of the jurors told him after the verdict that the jury relied heavily on one particular instruction from the judge. The judge had explained that if the people holding the candlelight vigil truly believed they were exercising their First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly, then they would not have the mental state required to commit a crime in this case.

Russo said he hopes county supervisors will revise the law, which was written during the Occupy Eureka protests.

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