Environmental activist Tim DeChristopher was accused of hijacking bids at a federal auction, in an effort to protect two national parks from oil and gas drillers. Here, DeChristopher leaves the federal Courthouse in Salt Lake City, Monday Feb. 28.
Environmental activist Tim DeChristopher was accused of hijacking bids at a federal auction, in an effort to protect two national parks from oil and gas drillers. Here, DeChristopher leaves the federal Courthouse in Salt Lake City, Monday Feb. 28. Jim Urquhart/AP
Climate activist Tim DeChristopher said he disrupted an oil and gas leasing auction in 2008 to prevent greater harm to the planet. But a federal jury in Salt Lake City has decided instead that DeChristopher is guilty of two federal felonies.
"We know now I'll have to go to prison," DeChristopher, 29, told supporters outside the courthouse after the verdict was read.
"If we want to achieve our vision," he continued, "many more will have to join me as well."
The conviction for making false statements and violating federal energy leasing rules could result in a prison sentence of as much as 10 years.
DeChristopher wanted his trial to focus on the role fossil fuels play in climate change and on the Bush administration's eleventh-hour attempt to initiate oil and gas drilling on sensitive federal land in Utah.
Some of the parcels up for leasing were close to national parks, archaeological sites and scenic rivers.
DeChristopher placed close to $2 million in bogus bids.
But U.S. District Judge Dee Benson ruled out any testimony about DeChristopher's environmental motives.
Still, DeChristopher managed to tell the jury he had hoped to delay the auction until the incoming Obama administration could review the Bush leasing plan.
In fact, DeChristopher's disruption did delay the issuance of some leases, and the Obama Interior Department and a federal court later declared the leasing process flawed.
Prosecutors told the jury that DeChristopher chose to commit criminal acts despite the opportunity to participate in peaceful protests.
Some environmental activists consider DeChristopher a hero and held a vigil outside the courthouse during the four-day trial.