Webster guilty on 3 charges, jurors decide

Posted: Sunday, July 13, 2003

A jury of four women and two men found Jeff Webster guilty of two counts of harassment and one count of interfering with the constitutional rights of peace demonstrators, and not guilty of one count of fourth-degree assault and one count of interfering with constitutional rights, ending a three-day trial in Kenai District Court Friday. All counts are misdemeanor offenses.

The charges stem from confrontations Webster had with demonstrators in Soldotna between March 22 and April 1. The demonstrators were protesting the United States' involvement in Iraq. Webster's son, Shane, was stationed with the Marine Corps in Iraq at the time.

Webster was convicted of harassing Sherry Kasukonis and Cheri Edwards by throwing water at them from a bucket while riding in the bed of a pickup March 24 as they stood holding protest placards at the Soldotna "Y." He also was convicted of doing the same thing April 1 to Kasukonis; her husband, Dr. John Kasukonis; their sons, Gabriel and Zachariah; and Daniel Funk, Billie Dailey, Karli Woltering, Stanley Histand and Adrienne Parsons.

The jury, which deliberated for about 2 1/2 hours Friday, also found Webster guilty of interfering with the constitutional rights of the 10 demonstrators by threatening or intimidating them because they had exercised their right to freedom of speech or assembly.

He was found not guilty of interfering with their constitutional rights by threatening or intimidating them with the intent to deprive them of their freedom of speech or assembly, and not guilty of fourth-degree assault by placing Daniel Funk in fear of imminent physical injury. The latter charge came after Webster allegedly pushed with his chest into Funk, also at the "Y" March 31.

The verdicts came as no surprise to Webster, who said, "You win some, you lose some ... literally.

"I didn't assault anyone, and I never threw water on this woman," he said pointing toward 82-year-old Dailey after the verdicts were announced. Dailey testified Wed-nesday to having seen water hit some of her friends, but said she herself had not gotten wet.

Assistant district attorney June Stein termed the jury's verdicts as "very reasoned."

During her closing statements to the jury Friday, Stein recalled a plaque she had read while visiting the Holocaust Museum on a trip to Washington, D.C., with her mother.

"The message, written by a Christian, said: 'They came for the socialists and I stood silent because I am not a socialist. They came for the trade unionists and I stood silent because I am not a trade unionist. They came for the Jews and I stood silent because I am not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.'

"You need to speak for the protesters and find Jeff Webster guilty."

She said Webster, by his actions, decided who gets to protest when and where.

"We can't let him make that decision for someone else," Stein said.

"That's what being an American is all about being allowed to speak openly, to speak freely."

After the state's witnesses finished testifying in the case Friday morning, Webster's attorney Wayne Anthony Ross made a motion for acquittal because he said the state failed to show his client's guilt. Magistrate David S. Landry noted the motion and proceeded to instruct Webster on his right to testify on his own behalf if he so decided.

Webster thanked the court and informed Landry of his decision to speak.

Although Webster's testimony at first came in the form of Ross making statements with Webster simply concurring, the defendant eventually told of his relationship with his son, of his concerns for Shane's safety while fighting in the Iraq war and of Webster's efforts to bring attention to the Soldotna community of his son's military service.

He said he put posters up around town telling of his son being in Iraq, he wrote a letter to the Peninsula Clarion informing people that the local community had people fighting in Iraq and he tied yellow ribbons to bushes in front of his house indicating he longed for the safe return of a loved one.

"Who put up the ribbons?" asked Ross.

"I put up the first one, then a couple dozen more," Webster said. "Then other people I didn't even know started adding ribbons ... about 300."

He said he believed the community was doing a good job of showing support for the American troops in Iraq, but when he saw people protesting at the Kenai Peninsula Borough building one Saturday morning, he could not understand what they were doing while the community was supporting the troops.

Webster then testified that he believed the protesters moved their demonstration to the "Y" because they knew where he lived and knew he must drive past the busy intersection every time he traveled to and from Soldotna. In earlier testimony, the protesters denied any such motive for moving their protests to the "Y."

Webster said he was especially disturbed because the demonstrators held signs showing wounded Marines and Iraqi civilians who had been shot. He also said the protesters and their signs had a similar effect on his family who also drove past that intersection.

"Did you throw water on them?" asked Ross.

"Yes," Webster said. "I had to do something.

"Every time I had to go through that intersection, they were there with pictures of dead Marines. There's other busy intersections.

"I had to do something."

Webster said he was not attempting to violate anyone's civil rights, he was not trying to stop them from protesting, he was simply trying to get them to move their demonstration.

The defense then planned to show the jury a video production Webster had made of the water throwing incident, but during a one and one-half hour closed session, the court ruled the video could not be shown. A shorter version had been posted on the Internet in April, showing the water-throwing incidents while the song "God Bless the USA" played. The tape ends with a picture of Shane Webster in his Marine dress uniform.

As his testimony resumed, Jeff Webster said he believed the protesters had a right to protest before the war started, but not once the troops had been sent there.

He ended his testimony by saying, "God bless the USA."

Throughout the trial, Webster and Ross had exchanged jokes about a salmon Ross accidentally hooked by the tail while fishing last week with Webster, who is a fishing guide.

During her questioning of Webster, Stein referred to the joke and said, "You said, 'One end or the other, what's the difference.'

"The difference is one end is legal, one is not, correct?" she said.

During the defense closing arguments, Ross again referred to the fish tale and said, "I let the fish go. I say let this guy go. His boy's back now and he won't do it again."

Cpl. Shane Webster returned safely to the United States June 12. He is due to complete his four-year enlistment in August and return to Alaska.

After the verdicts were read Friday, Stein said the maximum penalty for the convictions is one and one-half years confinement and fines totaling $14,000, but said she would like to get input from the victims before recommending a sentence to the court.

Magistrate Landry set sentencing for July 28.

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