HILO, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - After several delays, the trial has started for the first group of people arrested while protesting the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope.
In court Friday, the four defendants ― Marie Alohalani Brown, Maxine Kahaulelio, Raynette Robinson and Kelii Ioane ― insist they’re not guilty of obstructing Mauna Kea Access Road.
The charge is a petty misdemeanor which carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail.
“As a Hawaiian who embraces her culture and practices hoomana Hawaii or Hawaiian religion, I am morally and spiritually bound to protect that which we consider sacred,” said Brown, before trial started at the Hilo courthouse.
Thirty-eight mostly Hawaiian elders were arrested at the TMT protest on July 17.
The arrests were emotional and helped spark a worldwide movement.
But prosecutors say the protesters held “Aole TMT” (or no TMT) signs and that they broke the law with a calculated plan: A blockade that included Hawaiian elders sitting in chairs across the road.
“These defendants may have have characterized their actions as kapu aloha and peaceful, but nonetheless it involved a plan, an organized plan, something that was calculated and basically something that was unjustified,” said deputy Attorney General Darrell Wong
But the defendants and their attorneys say it was government that blocked the activists from practicing their religion and culture, which is protected under the law.
Also on the stand today Friday was DOCARE’s Hawaii Island Branch Chief Lino Kamakau, who tried to negotiate with the kupuna to leave. He says he gave them several warnings before they were arrested.
Late in the day, the judge reduced the charges for two of the defendants, Brown and Robinson, to non-criminal violations.
The next trial date for this group of four was scheduled for May 29.
Judge Kanani Laubach previously separated the 38 defendants into eight groups so the start of trials for the rest of the groups will be on upcoming Fridays.
With dozens of witnesses and the defendants to appear in each other’s trials, it’s not known how long these trials will last.