Photo via New York Times

By Alex Chadwick

A Salt Lake City federal jury deliberated for five hours Thursday before finding climate activist Tim DeChristopher guilty on both counts of disrupting a an oil and gas lease auction in the closing days of the Bush Administration. In an act he said was meant to delay the auction until the Obama Administration took office a month later, he bid almost $1.8 million on 14 leases that he could not pay for. Sentencing is delayed until late June. Tim could get 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $750,000. His attorneys are considering an appeal.

Throughout the four days in the courtroom, Tim showed little emotion, and he held his face still as the clerk of the court read out the jury’s decision. His mother sat directly behind him in the first row of spectators… she looked grim and worn out. Other supporters held hands, and some began to weep. No one was surprised by what happened, but there was a lot of disappointment and regret. Tim stood aside with his legal team, and the spectators began to leave quietly to regroup for a support rally.

Moments later, Tim emerged from the Federal Courthouse to a crowd of cheering supporters gathered on the sidewalk outside. He told them that they had sustained him. He said the prosecutors had wanted to make him feel small and isolated, like a little finger, and he held his right hand high. Then he flexed it open and said the demonstrators reminded him there are many fingers, and that they could close in a fist of togetherness. The sky darkened and it began to hail.

Mountainfilm asked the US Attorney’s office if it will indeed seek prison time. It’s too soon to say, said US Attorney for Utah Carlie Christensen. But she said she has decided one thing – she is not going to ask for the maximum sentence. There is no mandatory minimum sentence, and it is possible no prison term will be imposed. Ms Christensen acknowledge the case was highly controversial. Tim had legal alternatives, she said – filing a formal protest of these parcel sales with the Bureau of Land Management, joining a lawsuit, or simply participating in the legal demonstration that had protested the sale outside BLM headquarters in Salt Lake. He didn’t do any of those things, she said; he broke the law and we prosecuted him for that.

Moments before she spoke, Tim answered questions from reporters.

‘Would you do it again?’, one of them asked.

‘Yes,’ Tim said. ‘I wouldn’t change a thing.’

Image: New York Times