BRATTLEBORO, Vt. -- Moments after being convicted of trespassing on Vermont Yankee nuclear plant property, Hattie Nestel asked Judge John Wesley to send her to jail.
Wesley declined, and Nestel -- along with five fellow members of the Shut It Down Affinity Group -- was fined $350 and allowed to walk out of a Brat tleboro courtroom on Tuesday .
Along with Nestel, the protesters convicted were Ellen Graves, of West Springfield, and Frances Crowe, Nancy First and Patricia "Paki" Wieland, of Northampton, and Mary Kehler, of Colrain -- all of them Massachusetts residents ranging in age from 64 to 93.
On the way out, however, Nestel and the other protesters remained unrepentant and said they would not pay a dime of the fine Wesley had imposed.
"By fining us, the state is complicit in keeping [Vermont Yankee] open. They should be locking it down like we locked it down," Nestel said. "That’s what they should be doing -- putting a padlock on it and saying, ‘You’re closed.’ It’s too dangerous." Nestel added that she "absolutely" would be returning to the gates of the Vernon plant.
That declaration followed a day-long trial that represented a rare instance of prosecutors taking Vermont Yankee protesters to court. Activists generally are arrested and later released with no further legal ramifications.
"In this case, we felt it was an appropriate use of resources to go forward with prosecution," said Steven Brown, a Windham County deputy state’s attorney.
The timing of the nonviolent protest played a role in its outcome. Though officials did not explicitly make this connection in court aside from a passing mention by Brown, the six women chained themselves to the plant’s gate on Aug. 30, 2011 -- just two days after Tropical Storm Irene had ravaged the area.
On a day when emergency personnel were busy helping flood victims, "these six defendants chose to occupy law enforcement’s time," Brown said.
Nestel denied that the timing was deliberate.
"We had planned that [pro test] way, way, way in ad vance," she said.
But the women -- none of whom had an attorney in court -- did not deny that they were on Vermont Yankee property that day and refused to leave despite repeated requests from plant personnel and from Vernon po lice Chief Mary Beth Hebert.
Each also said they had been arrested for protesting at Ver mont Yankee before.
As each of the defendants took the stand, Brown limited his questions to those basic facts. He also called Hebert and Patrick Ryan, the plant’s security manager, to testify about details of the protesters’ arrest.
The defendants portrayed their actions as necessary, noting the on-going court battle be tween state officials who want to shut down the plant and federal regulators who have re newed an operating license for plant owner, Entergy.
"The irony is, we’re in a state court for a state that really wants Entergy out of here and has voted that way and had a governor elected on that platform," Kehler said.
"They are operating illegally. They are the trespassers," Nestel said. "And we are the enforcers of the state’s will."
They also raised concerns about Vermont Yankee’s effects on the environment -- particularly the Connecticut River -- and on residents’ health.
"It wasn’t a frivolous thing that I did. It was deadly serious," Crowe said .
A long-time anti-nuclear activist, she added that she is trying to engage more citizens to protest at the plant.
"This trial is not about the legality of Vermont Yankee’s continued operation," Wesley said.
He declined to order a suspended jail sentence, instead imposing a $350 fine on each of the women.
"There are certain criminal behaviors for which the criminal-justice system is a pretty crude instrument," he said.