One of the so-called “valve turners” is walking free, for now.
A Skagit County jury Thursday was unable to reach a verdict in the trial of Ken Ward, who was charged with criminal sabotage and “assemblage of saboteurs” for shutting down an oil pipeline near Mt. Vernon. The charges carried possible prison terms of decades.
Ward planned to present a “necessity defense” to the courtroom, which basically holds that while he broke the law, he had to in order to prevent greater harm—that being climate change. However, the judge in the case, Michael E. Rickert, denied Ward’s request to present the defense, commenting that there was “tremendous controversy” over whether climate change even existed. As the Guardian reports, that comment was not well received by the climate activists closely monitoring the case.
Despite the legal setback, though, Ward’s supporters announced via Twitter this afternoon that the jury was unable to reach a verdict after the trial wrapped up yesterday.
Since the jury was unable to reach a verdict, prosecutors could choose to retry Ward. On Wednesday afternoon, activist Emily Johnston, also a valve-turner, tweeted: “Hung jury! Mistrial. Woohoo! But maybe another trial announced next week…”
This post may be updated as we get more information. In the meantime, be sure to read Sara Bernard’s full report on the valve turners here.
UPDATE: A scheduling hearing has been set for February 9. At that point the prosecution will decide whether or not to retry the case. Although the “necessity defense” was not permitted, Ward’s defense team was still able to bring exhibits on climate science, including the impacts of sea level rise in Skagit County. “This trial was about climate change,” said Emily Johnston in a press release. “The prosecution presented only information about what Ken did on October 11, and Ken and the defense presented only information about climate change, so the only decision that the jury was making was which story mattered more. And climate won.”