Northwest News

He tried to shut off a Skagit County oil pipeline; now he’s facing prison

Kenneth Ward was found guilty Wednesday of second-degree burglary for trying to shut off an oil pipeline Oct. 11 at a Kinder Morgan facility west of Burlington.

The jury found Ward, 60, guilty of burglary after a two-day trial, but a mistrial was declared on a charge of criminal sabotage after the jury failed to reach a verdict.

This was Ward’s second trial on each of the charges. His first trial ended in a mistrial Feb. 1 after jurors failed to reach a verdict on each of the charges.

His sentencing is scheduled for June 22.

Skagit County prosecutor Sloan Johnson argued during trial that Ward’s actions were criminal.

Ward of Corbett, Oregon, testified in both trials that he targeted the pipeline in an attempt to raise awareness about climate change and to inspire a transition off fossil fuels.

Many attended the trials to support Ward’s message, including camera crews for a documentary film about Ward and his role in environmental activism.

Ward testified that learning of the threats posed by rising temperatures, melting ice and sea level rise due to climate change caused him to worry about the future of the planet for his son.

Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney Rich Weyrich told the Skagit Valley Herald earlier this year that he believes Ward’s case marks the first time climate change arguments have been made in Skagit County Superior Court.

In a video of the trial posted to the Facebook group Shut it Down – Climate Direct Action, defense lawyer Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center told jurors during closing arguments that Ward took the decision to act very seriously.

Ward was one of several activists who broke into pipeline facilities in four states Oct. 11 and attempted to shut them down. Each targeted pipelines that carry Canadian tar sands oil into the United States.

“They (the activists) weren’t there to damage property … they weren’t there to harm anyone. In fact, just the opposite, they were there to prevent harm … “ Regan said in the video.

Ward’s sentencing hearing on the burglary conviction is June 22. He faces up to 10 years in prison and/or up to $20,000 in fines.

Ward said he plans to appeal the conviction.

Judge Michael Rickert ruled before the start of the first trial that climate scientists and civil disobedience experts could not be called to testify in Ward’s defense, citing irrelevancy, according to court documents.

Their testimony would have been part of what is called a necessity defense, which asserts that a criminal act was necessary to avoid harm, and that no legal alternative was available.

After the verdict Wednesday, Ward said he was able to speak with several of the jurors about their decisions in the trial.

He said he was heartened that some of the jurors said there could have been a different outcome if the jury has been allowed to hear a necessity defense.

“Even a little bit of climate change argument was compelling for them (jurors),” Ward said.