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‘Democracy 7’ retrial Feb. 8
(Published Nov. 6, 2000)
By OSCAR ABEYTA
A mistrial was declared Oct. 31 in the case of the six people accused of disrupting Congress by chanting slogans advocating voting rights for the District.
The jury in the case handed down a guilty verdict Oct. 30 after four hours of deliberations, but when defense attorneys asked D.C. Superior Court Judge Anna Blackburn-Rigsby to poll the individual jurors, one of them answered guilty "with reservations." On further questioning, the juror said he did not believe prosecutors had proven their case.
Blackburn-Rigsby sent the jury back to deliberate, but after nine more hours they could not reach a unanimous decision and she declared a mistrial. A new trial date has been set for Feb. 8.
The defendants -- Steve Donkin, Debby Hanrahan, Bette Hoover, Queen Mother ShemeYah, Tanya Snyder and Karen Szulgit -- were arrested along with Martin Thomas July 26 during congressional debate over the D.C. appropriations bill. The group was charged with disruption of Congress after they shouted "D.C. votes no" and "Free D.C." Charges against Thomas, a D.C. Statehood Green Party candidate for "shadow" U.S. representative, were dropped at the beginning of the trial without explanation.
The defendants, who collectively call themselves "the Democracy Seven," won a major early battle in the case when Blackburn-Rigsby ruled against prosecutors, who wanted to exclude all political speech from the trial. They argued that letting a jury hear their phrases would prejudice them and prevent a fair verdict from being issued.
One of the defendants, Szulgit, was acquitted last winter along with fellow activist Anise Jenkins for a similar incident that took place during last year’s House budget debate.