JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — There will be no jail time for 22 religious leaders convicted of trespassing for a 2014 protest in the Missouri Senate.
Jurors on Thursday recommended the religious leaders be fined instead of sent to jail. The amount of the fine will be determined by Cole County Circuit Judge Dan Green at a later date. It can be no higher than $500.
The religious leaders were convicted Wednesday of the trespassing charges but acquitted of charges of disrupting government operations. Several of the defendants who were wearing religious garments cried in the courtroom when the judge announced the not-guilty verdict.
Those on trial were among hundreds of clergy and other activists who filled the public seating area in the Senate gallery in May 2014, singing hymns and chanting for senators to “pass Medicaid expansion, to do justice, to have mercy, to be fair” and bring health care to “the poorest of the poor.”
Republican Senate leaders paused work as Capitol Police cleared the galleries. Police arrested 23 clergy members who stayed; 22 of them were on trial this week.
Cole County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Richardson told jurors during his closing argument that protesters had “all the chance in the world” to leave but did not.
He said that’s “completely consistent with a group that started out saying, ‘We want to be arrested to draw attention to our cause.'”
Jay Barnes, a Jefferson City Republican House member who is one of the attorneys representing the clergy, called that an “absurd theory” and said protesters didn’t want to be arrested.