Jury Acquits 3 of 4 Abortion Protestors

Austin American-Statesman – Friday, April 14, 1989

A jury deliberated nearly 6.5  hours Thursday before acquitting three of four men charged with misdemeanor trespassing for blocking an entrance to an Austin clinic during an abortion protest in December.

A sentencing hearing will be this morning for the man found guilty David Sweet, 27, Minister of Missions at Crestview Baptist Church.  The trespassing charge carries a maximum punishment of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The four men were the first to face trial on criminal trespassing out of about 190 protesters charged in the recent series of sit-ins outside Austin clinics.

Jurors began deliberating the case at 4:30 p.m. and reviewed a 20-minmute videotape of the protest along with other testimony.

The defendants found innocent, all from Austin, were Samuel Reed, 56, Senior Minister of Southwest Christian Church at 6523 Emerald Forest Drive in Austin; Phillip Landrum, 48, also a minister at the church; and David Burnett, 28, District Sales Manager for USA Today.

They were arrested December 9 after a sit-in at Reproductive Services at 1009 E. 40th Street.  Protesters blocked the entrances to two Austin clinics in the sit-ins, which were organized by Austin Rescue, an anti-abortion group.

The trial began Monday before County Court-at-Law Judge Steve Russell.

Their attorney, Bob Phillips of Georgetown, told jurors in final arguments Thursday that testimony conflicted about whether police had warned the protesters they were trespassing and were subject to arrest.

Phillips contended a warning that other officers said was given by police Lt. John Stewart “never happened.”  He said there was conflicting testimony from police officers during the trial on whether the protesters received one or two warnings and where they were given.

Other protesters testified they were confused when police carried or escorted them from the third floor of the building where the clinic is located, but did not arrest them until later.

But Assistant County Attorney Mike Denton, accusing the protesters of “blocking people’s freedom of choice,” said police had given them an extra chance to leave.

Denton said there were “well-meaning, strong-convicted people on both sides of this issue.”  But he said the defendants in effect were saying, “Not only will I break (the law), but I will take your freedoms away.  I will take your liberties away” by blocking clinic entrances.

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