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Grave-digging activist found guilty

The woman says her verdict is still a victory against the war in Iraq.
Friday, October 21, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:26 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

Columbia activist Lana Jacobs was found guilty of property damage Thursday by Boone County Circuit Court Judge Larry A. Bryson for digging symbolic graves on the MU campus in May to protest the war in Iraq.

Jacobs, 56, who runs Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen and St. Francis House homeless shelter, said she was not surprised at the verdict and said she felt it was still a victory for her cause.

“We got to say what we needed to say,” Jacobs said. “People had to think (about the war).”

Jacobs was arrested May 2 by MU Police after digging a symbolic grave in the front yard of Crowder Hall to protest the war in Iraq. Crowder houses the Army, Air Force and Navy ROTC at MU. Her husband, Stephen Jacobs, was arrested for the same offense earlier that day. He is scheduled to be tried by a jury in Boone County Circuit Court on Thursday.

During the two-hour bench trial before Bryson, Jacobs’ attorney, Ruth O’Neill, cited her client’s First Amendment right to free speech, which includes symbolic speech or expressive conduct and the right to petition the government to redress grievances.

O’Neill also cited Nuremberg Principle Seven in her defense. Under that principle, Jacobs took action because she believes the war in Iraq is a crime against humanity and peace, and to remain silent makes her complicit. Additionally, O’Neill asserted that her client had a “claim of right” to the Crowder Hall yard because it is partially funded by taxpayer dollars.

Jacobs testified on her own behalf, saying she dug the grave after her husband’s arrest “to contribute to the visualization of the protest of the war.” She went on to tell the court that “there is a disconnect in our country, that people are dying.”

MU peace studies professor Bill Wickersham also testified on Jacobs’ behalf, though his testimony was interrupted repeatedly by assistant prosecutor Nicole Elizabeth Gorovsky, who argued that Wickersham’s explanation of international law was irrelevant to the case.

O’Neill said after the trial that the claim of right defense is fairly novel in Boone County and that she plans to explain it further in her post-trial motions. Bryson was scheduled to hear motions in the case and sentence Jacobs on Nov. 9.

Second-degree property damage is a Class B felony in Missouri and is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $500.


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