Final four tree sitters plea not guilty

September 11, 2008 7:45:43 PM PDT
Four tree-sitters who had been living in a tall redwood tree near the University of California, Berkeley's football stadium pleaded not guilty today to misdemeanor counts of contempt of court for violating a court order and lodging illegally.

The tree-sitters, who were arrested early Tuesday afternoon at the end of a 21-month-long protest at a grove of trees on the site where the university plans to build a new sports training facility, are scheduled to return to Alameda County Superior Court on Monday for pretrial hearings.

Bail amounts for the tree-sitters, who were dressed in blue jail jumpsuits, range from $1,500 to $15,000.

The tree-sitters' chief ground supporter, Eric Eisenberg, also known as Ayr, after the brief hearing in the courtroom of Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said, "These people should be released as heroes for standing up for the earth."

Eisenberg said he thinks the tree-sitters with the lowest bail amounts will be released from custody tonight but those with higher bail amounts may have to remain in jail at least a few days longer.

The highest bail amount is $15,000 for 26-year-old Michael Schuck, also known as "Shem," the only one of the four tree-sitters who has attended UC-Berkeley and has strong Bay Area connections.

Schuck faces more charges than the other tree-sitters because he faces an additional misdemeanor criminal contempt charge for allegedly violating an order to stay away from the tree grove after he was arrested in April 2007 for occupying a redwood tree in Sproul Plaza on campus.

He also is accused of violating his probation in that case.

Schuck's bail had been $47,000, but Gonzales Rogers agreed to reduce it to $15,000 after his attorney, Hunter Pyle, said Schuck has been in the Bay Area for seven years, has a job as a care provider and plans to return to UC-Berkeley. Prosecutor Josefa James agreed to the bail reduction.

Bail was set at $11,778 for the other tree-sitters when they were arrested on Tuesday, but Gonzales Rogers reduce their bails as well.

Bail for Raul Colocho, 27, also known as "Huckleberry," was reduced to $5,500 and bail was reduced to $1,500 each for Armando Resendez, 20, known as "Mando," and Ernesto Trevino Pena, 18, known as "Ernesto."

In asking for a lower bail for Colocho, defense attorney Carol Strickman said he's a former New York University student, used to work for the New York Times and has worked in the computer field.

Eisenberg said he doesn't think that Colocho worked as a reporter for the New York Times but he understands that Colocho did layout work for the newspaper.

Gonzales Rogers refused requests to release Colocho, Pena and Resendez on their own recognizance because they don't have strong ties to the Bay Area.

Lawyers for those three tree-sitters said that before they began living in the trees this summer they lived at a "community house" at 731 Evelyn Ave. in Albany.

Colocho listed that address as his local residence, but when Gonzalez Rogers asked him what city it's in he said he didn't know.

"I'm not familiar with the area yet," Colocho said.

He said he wants to look for a job and a permanent residence in the Bay Area.

Also appearing in court today was 19-year-old Eric Elliott, who's charged with resisting arrest in connection with a clash with UC-Berkeley police on Tuesday.

Gonzales Rogers reduced Elliott's bail form $6,500 to $3,000. He's scheduled to return to court on Friday.

Outside court, Strickman said one possible defense for the tree-sitters is the so-called "necessity defense."

She said that in such a defense defendants argue they took a potentially illegal action in order to prevent a greater harm.


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