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Six Convicted Of Conspiracy In Sanctuary Trial

May 2, 1986 GMT

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) _ Six sanctuary movement activists were convicted by a federal jury Thursday of conspiring to smuggle Salvadoran and Guatemalan aliens into the United States. Two others were convicted of other charges, and three were acquitted on all counts.

The jury deliberated more than 47 hours over nine days on a total of 30 felony and misdemeanor charges against the 11 defendants, who included a Presbyterian minister, two Roman Catholic priests, a nun, and seven church layworkers. ....................BULLETIN................................................

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A U.S District Court jury on Thursdayfound six sanctuary movement activists guilty of conspiring to smuggle aliens into the United States illegally. Five other defendants were acquitted of the same charge. ...........................................................................

The three found innocent of all charges were James A. Corbett, 52, one of the founders of the sanctuary movement; Mary K. Doan Espinoza, 31, of Nogales, Ariz., and Nena MacDonald, 38, of Lubbock Texas.

A second founder of the movement, the Rev. John M. Fife III, 46, was convicted of conspiracy and two felony counts of aiding transporation of an alien. He was acquitted of a misdemeanor count of aiding and abetting illegal entry of an alien.

During the trial, which lasted more than six months, the prosecution maintained that the defendants violated U.S. immigration laws between late 1981 or early 1982 and the beginning of 1985, helping people who came to this country only for economic betterment.

But the defendants contended they lawfully aided people who were fleeing persecution in their homelands. They said the Salvadorans and Guatemalans were refugees and under international law and the United States Refugee Act of 1980 were entitled to political asylum.

According to the indictment, various defendants provided clothing and transportation to aliens, escorted them across the U.S.-Mexico border and conspired to help them during sessions held at churches.

″I’m disappointed,″ Fife said after leaving the courthouse, ″but this is just the first of a series of judicial decisions.″

Defense attorneys said the case would be appealed. ″The fight is not over,″ said attorney James Brosnahan. ″When history looks back on these defendants, they will receive their just reward.

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″There is no way this verdict will stand up,″ Brosnahan said.

″This is a hollow victory,″ said defense attorney Tom Hoidal. ″These were good people who followed their Christian duty.″

Prosecutor Donald M. Reno Jr. said he was pleased with the outcome. ″I’m not pleased to see any persons convicted of a crime. I’m only pleased the jury exercised its discretion within the jurisdiction of the law provided to them.″

In Washington, Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Alan C. Nelson hailed the verdicts.

″Above all, this case has demonstrated that no group, no matter how well meaning or higly motivated, can arbitrarily violate the laws of the United States,″ Nelson said in a statement. ″The defendants through this decision by a jury of their peers, must recognize that they have had their day in court and have been convicted through a fair and impartial system taht presumes everyone innocent until proven guilty.

″Perhaps now that this verdict is behind us, those of the ‘sanctuary’ movement can redirect their energies in a manner that is within the law.″

Those convicted remained free on their own recognizance until sentencing July 1.

Conviction of felony conspiracy can bring up to five years’ imprisonment and $10,000 fines per defendant and the other felony counts are punishable by the same prison terms and $2,000 fines. Conviction of misdemeanor conspiracy, as the other misdemeanor counts, can bring up to six months and $500 fines.

All the time the nine women and three men of the jury deliberated, they asked only one question of substance of U.S. District Court Judge Earl H. Carroll - for a transcript of a brief, secretly recorded conversation, which they received last week.

The prosecution presented 17 witnesses, including 15 Central Americans, a paid undercover informant nd an undercover agent of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Four other witnesses subpoenaed by assistant U.S. Attorney Donald M. Reno Jr., including three U.S. citizens and a Salvadoran, refused to testify and were placed under house arrest for a time after being cited for contempt.

The defense presented no witnesses.

In the government’s original indictment in January 1985, 16 defendants had been charged with a total of 71 counts. Charges against two Roman Catholic nuns were dismissed by the government, and three other women pleaded guilty to misdemeanors before trial proceedings began Oct. 22.

At the outset of the trial, Reno succeeded in having its scope narrowed to exclude such issues as religion, humanitarianism, international law and political asylum.

Later he insisted to the jurors that the case was nothing more than an alien-smuggling conspiracy.

In addition to Fife, those convicted of conspiracy included the Rev. Ramon Dagoberto Quinones, 50, of Nogales, Mexico, a Roman Catholic priest; Sister Darlene Nicgorski, 42, of Milwaukee; Philip Willis-Conger, 28, director of the Tucson Ecumenical Council’s Task Force on Central America; Margaret Jean ″Peggy″ Hutchison, 31, director of border ministry for the Tucson Metropolitan Ministry; Maria del Socorro Pardo de Aguilar, 60, of Nogales, Mexico.

Wendy LeWin, 26, of Phoenix, a church layworker, was convicted of one felony count of transporting an illegal alien and acquitted of conspiracy.

The Rev. Tony Clark, 37, of Nogales, Ariz., parish priest of Sacred Heart Church, was convicted of concealing, harboring and shielding an alien. He was found acquitted of conspiracy and of aiding and abetting transportation of an illegal alien.

In the only other major trials of sanctuary movement workers, three people were convicted in Texas last year.

Jack Elder, the former director of Casa Oscar Romero in San Benito, Texas, served five months in a halfway house for illegally aiding two Salvadorans in entering the country. In a separate trial he was acquitted of charges he transported three Salvadorans.

Stacey Lynn Merkt, a volunteer at the Catholic Church-sponsored shelter, was convicted in two separate trials of charges she transported Salvadorans and conspired to help Salvadorans enter the country illegally. One of those convictions was overturned because of improper jury instructions and she awaits a retrial.

Lorry Thomas, who briefly took over the directorship of Casa Oscar Romero after Elder’s conviction, is serving two years in prison after pleading guilty in May 1985 to a charge of illegally transporting a Nicaraguan past a Border Patrol checkpoint.