Defense attorney Wayne Anthony Ross became visibly upset Wednesday as his repeated attempts to get at the mind-set of protesters were thwarted during the first day of the Jeff Webster trial in Kenai District Court.
Webster is charged with two counts of harassment, one count of fourth-degree assault and two counts of interfering with the constitutional rights of demonstrators, based on incidents in which he supposedly doused peace demonstrators with buckets of water in March and April at the Soldotna "Y." Webster had a son serving in the Marines in Iraq at the time.
"The question is whether these people were justified in protesting," Ross said. "The jury is to determine whether it was unreasonable to protest at this time and place."
Magistrate David S. Landry disagreed, however, saying the Webster trial was not going to determine U.S. foreign policy.
"I want to stick to the issues," Landry said.
In opening statements, assistant district attorney June Stein told the jury that the evidence in the Webster case is "particularly unique because there is no doubt about who did what."
She said the 10 protesters, now turned witnesses, would tell the court how Webster stopped and threatened them, then doused them with water the following day. On another occasion, about one week later, Webster returned and again threw buckets of water on the protesters, Stein said.
Ross began his opening remarks by telling the jury to remember there is a proper time and place for everything, but as he began to say, "For every action there is a proper reaction," Stein began a line of objections.
Ross then retrenched, telling the jury panel of four women and three men that "for every right, there is a corresponding responsibility."
The Anchorage attorney, who said he often provides legal services to veterans and veterans' organizations, then described Webster's "close relationship" with his son, Shane, and recounted a chain of events leading up to the water-throwing incidents this spring.
"In the fall of 2002, when it looked like we were going to war, Mr. Webster became concerned about the safety of his son. When the U.S. went to Iraq, Mr. Webster tied yellow ribbons on the trees at his house.
"In March, Shane went to Iraq. This group, who protested other wars, decided to protest this war. Mr. Webster drove to the (Kenai Peninsula) Borough Building where the protesters were, and he was surrounded. He told them how he felt.
"Then articles appeared in the Kenai paper the Peninsula Clarion. That's why they moved to the 'Y' just down the street from Mr. Webster's house," Ross said.
Ross told the jury Webster then went and told the protesters not to be on the corner "and he took action."
"You tease a dog long enough and eventually the dog is going to snap at you," he said.
"We believe the evidence will show no crime was committed. The time and place for peace protests should not have been at Mr. Webster's house," Ross said.
Webster lives about three-fourths of a mile from the "Y."
After opening statements, the litany of state witnesses began, with seven of the 10 protesters recounting details of the events of March 24 and April 1, when Webster allegedly threw water on the demonstrators.
When asked by Ross why she was protesting, 82-year-old Billie Dailey, one of the victims of the water dousing, quoted from Eleanor Roosevelt saying, "No one won the last war and no one will win the next."
After Dailey told Ross that one of her placards depicted an Iraqi child holding a lamb, Ross asked why and she said it was to show people that "Iraqi children were human beings."
"Do you recall Iraqi children welcoming our troops?" Ross asked, but the question went unanswered as Stein objected. The jury was then excused as Magistrate Landry and the two attorneys debated over whether Ross would be allowed to show if the beliefs of the protesters were unreasonable.
"I think the court is missing the point of the defense," Ross said. "It's more than what's legal."
Landry then told him, "We'll never get to the issues of Vietnam, Korea or World War II. I want to stick to the issues involved with this case," he said.
When the jury returned to the courtroom, Ross asked Dailey, "What did you do to support the troops?"
"I protested the war," she said.
Other demonstrators who testified Wednesday included several members of the Dr. John Kasukonis family of Soldotna, including his wife, Sherry Kasukonis, sons Gabriel and Zachariah, and daughter-in-law, Adrienne Parsons. Protesters Daniel Funk and Stanley Histand also told jurors details of events surrounding the water-throwing incident.
Sherry Kasukonis recalled how "cold and miserable" the weather was at the end of March and said under questioning by Ross that she was not bruised when the water was thrown but was uncomfortable being wet in the freezing cold for one hour.
"You were not required to stand there for one hour," Ross said.
"Yes I was," she said. "By my own morality."
The trial is scheduled to resume Friday at 8:30 a.m. with the remainder of the state's witnesses slated to testify. They include protesters Dr. Kasukonis, Cheri Edwards and Karli Woltering, as well as two Soldotna police officers and one Alaska State Trooper who responded to the water-throwing incidents.
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