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Posted 15 Nov 2000 00:00:00 UTC

Before a packed courtroom in Philadelphia on Tuesday afternoon, Terrence McGuckin, known to 2600 readers as layout artist ShapeShifter, was found guilty on two of six charges related to his arrest at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in August.

The prosecution began by dropping its controversial accusation that McGuckin's cell phone was an instrument of crime. But the case they presented with the remaining charges contained virtually no evidence of a conclusive nature.

The sole witness for the prosecution was Detective Angelo Parisi, an off-duty police officer from Washington DC who had been wandering through Philadelphia streets during the convention filming demonstrators. He claimed to have seen McGuckin in a crowd of people talking on a cell phone. The officer claimed he saw the defendant point in a certain direction and that the 10-15 people in his group moved in that direction. However, the officer failed to capture any of this on his video camera. He claimed that McGuckin then proceeded to the corner of 12th and Arch where he again spoke on his cell phone.

At this point, Parisi described a demonstration on 13th and Arch where protestors blocked an intersection for around 20 minutes. The implication was that McGuckin was coordinating this demonstration, even though he was never even seen by the officer at this intersection nor was he overheard saying anything to anyone. Ironically, the demonstration in question resulted in no arrests because protestors dispersed after getting a warning from police.

A brief videotape was shown to the courtroom which consisted of chanting demonstrators and a few people sitting in the street. There was no noticeable sense of chaos nor any unpleasantness in the entire video. And strangely, McGuckin didn't appear once in the entire screening which led many to question the relevance of showing the tape in the first place. Parisi claimed McGuckin was captured on video later in the tape but didn't show it since he was just walking down a street.

The defense claimed that the "entire case [was] speculation" and pointed out that Parisi had even failed to mention any of these details in a report he had filed with the Philadelphia police the day the video was shot. This, combined with his inability to capture McGuckin on videotape, strengthened the defense's allegation that McGuckin was not actually observed doing anything illegal. It was also pointed out that the only witness presented by the prosecution was an off duty cop from another city. If McGuckin was really one of the masterminds behind the unrest, wouldn't more witnesses have come forward?

The prosecution exclaimed, "He could have said anything!" when asked if they actually knew what McGuckin had said while speaking on his phone. In exasperation, the defense remarked, "This case is even weaker than I thought."

In the end, the charges of obstruction of justice, reckless endangerment, and failure to disperse were thrown out. However, Judge Lydia Kirkland found McGuckin guilty of disorderly conduct and obstructing a highway.

It's hard to imagine how this decision was reached since he was seen doing neither of these things, not even by the prosecution's sole witness. It's also difficult to understand why the defense never brought up the fact that McGuckin had been held in prison for a week on half a million dollars bail. The same people responsible for that seemed to have no problem with a sentence of three months' probation and a fine of $135.50, which is what McGuckin ultimately wound up getting. Quite simply, the whole thing just doesn't add up.

In another case scheduled for the same day, Ruckus Society leader John Sellers - who had been held on one million dollars bail - had his entire case dropped by the prosecution. One of the reasons initially given by the authorities for the incredibly high bail was fear that the defendants wouldn't appear in court. In actuality, they all did - with their families, friends, and supporters. Sellers had traveled all the way from California to defend himself, only to be told that the case had been closed.

It was the view of many spectators that the cases' sole purpose was to cripple and punish the protest movement. The lack of any real evidence presented on Tuesday certainly bolsters that claim. The large number of people who showed up and the continuing fight by remaining defendants proves that the government's tactic ultimately backfired.

Despite the relatively minor penalties now involved, McGuckin and his attorney vowed to immediately appeal the decision on principle. And the good news for 2600 readers is that our layout artist won't be rotting in prison in the interim.

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