1992 May 15 – Sentencing Statements (Prison Writings)
“The Wrong Person is on Trial…. ‘
by Frank Cordaro
(The following is an adaptation based on the transcripts from the May l5th, 1992 trial, conviction and sentencing of Frank before Us. District Judge William Cambridge. The characters are Terry Salem, Frank’s attorney; Frank; Maj. Victor La Puma, Special Assistant US. Attorney; and the judge. We pick up as Judge Cambridge has found Frank guilty of repeated reentry onto SAC (now SNC) property and is giving all parties the opportunity to make statements before sentencing.)
THE JUDGE: I have no alternative but to find the defendant guilty of the crime that is charged, and I do so (I find him guilty.)
Having done that, the next step in the proceedings is to hold a sentencing hearing on the defendant. If you would all come forward then, please. Mr. Salerno, before I impose sentence upon your client, I wish to give you the opportunity to speak on behalf of your client.
- SALERNO: I read the morning paper today, and noticed the verdict came in on the Hell’s Angel case that you have spent the last couple months trying, and it struck me that after two months of trial, the people who participated in the drug trafficking that caused so much violence to families and individuals, destroying the very fabric of society, that trial and those defendants stand in stark contrast to what we have here now in this courtroom this afternoon. Today’s defendant, Fr. Cordaro, has moral and philosophical belief that stands for compassion, peace and concern for his fellow human beings and for all aspects of society. It was upon these beliefs that Fr. Frank acted upon at S.A.C. last December 28th.
One of the reasons we are here today is because Fr. Frank feels so repelled by all violence that not only does he speak out against it in our society at large as it is played out in the personal lives of people, but also he voices his opposition to the public structures and institutions and to the policies of our elected leaders who espouse what he views as the ultimate violence to society, the threat of nuclear war!
I admit that I have a hard time with how Father Frank expressed his opposition to nuclear weapons. However, I can look at what he does working with the Catholic Worker movement, doing things for the poor, trying to help them by feeding them and clothing them and finding them shelter, and I can see tangible results. I know he is a great parish priest because he is my pastor. I can see how the people of St. Anne’s and Holy Family parishes really love Fr. Frank. His work with them as their pastor, celebrating the mass, preaching his sermons, administering the sacraments, visiting the sick and the home-bound are real, and I can see tangible results. I praise him for his selflessness and devotion to the poor and to the people he pastors. Then I look at him going down to S.A.C. and “crossing the line” and I don’t see tangible results. Yet, I’ve come to understand from talking with him at length that his efforts at S.A.C. are no less noble than the work he does for the poor and for the people of St. Anne’s and Holy Family parishes. It’s just that their results are not as tangible and immediate; they are done with an eye on the future, God’s future.
Fr. Frank knows that he risks going to jail by doing what he does out at S.A.C. His actions are not measured by this courts reality. Furthermore, I submit that this particular offense strikes me as being particularly artificial, not meriting the attention or the expense that the government has given it. Fr. Frank calls up the people down at S.A.C. He tells them that on such-and-such a day at such-and-such a time he and others would like to come down and pray at their gate at which time a number of their party plan to “cross the property line” to evidence their protest of S.A.C.’s nuclear mission. The S.A.C. security people and the Bellevue police in turn fully coordinate with Fr. Frank and his friends, and a time and a date are set. So at the appointed time Fr. Frank and his friends come down to the S.A.C. gate, they pray and some of them “cross the line.” Then the “line crossers” are detained by S.A.C. security people. “Ban and bar” letters are issued, and everyone goes home. All is done nonviolently, civilly, like clock-work. Everyone knows their roles. As Fr. Frank says himself, “It’s ‘ good liturgy, good theater.” And no loss to society — no real crime committed. Now three months later, here we are in this court room, nobody wanting to see Fr. Frank back in jail, but at a loss at what to do.
Sending someone like this to jail, judge, at the expense of society is not just to be measured in the dollars it costs to house him in our already over-crowded prison facilities, but it is also to be measured by the fact that we are taking a man whose daily work is selfless in the caring of the poor and the people of his two small rural parishes. You are going to be housing him in a federal or county facility somewhere and thereby prevent him from doing the things that actually benefit our society. Just because Fr. Frank is being unreasonable in this matter, does not mean the courts should also be unreasonable.
I would ask you not to sentence him to jail and what is more, I would ask you not to sentence him to probation. Probation would just put an undue burden on Mr. Ranheim or the folks in the Probation Department. Also, should you give him volunteer work to do, he really doesn’t need to be under supervision of the Probation Department in order to perform it; he has taken a vow to do that anyway. However, if the court feels that because of the statute, because of the offense, that he should be jailed, I would ask the court to make a recommendation to the Bureau of Prisons that he go to either Duluth, Leavenworth or Yankton where the benefits he can bring to the other inmates will not be lessened because of the restrictions they place upon Father Frank in that institution. Thank you Judge.
THE JUDGE: Is there anything you wish to say to the Court, Father Cordaro, before the Court imposes sentence here including anything that you might wish to say in mitigation of any sentence, which could be imposed?
DEFENDANT CORDARO: Yes, your honor, there is. As the record shows, I did stipulate to the facts of “crossing the line,” but I want you to know that in no way do I believe I’m “guilty” of any criminal act because no crime was committed last December 28th when I crossed the line arm in arm with my mother, Angela, and with 22 other good people.
I will maintain today as I have maintained every time I’m dragged into this courtroom that the wrong person is on trial. I look for the time when our justice system will start bringing the responsible parties for the S.A.C. Headquarters and our nuclear war policies to trial. They are the real criminals. As I stand before you today, there are people at S.A.C. Headquarters ready to destroy and kill tens of thousands, of millions of innocent people at a moment’s notice. This is the real criminal activity. Our nuclear arsenal is the world’s biggest club. It makes us the world’s most dangerous country hell bent on destroying ourselves and all others to preserve our way of life, our ill-gotten gains. As a nation and as a people we have given over our soul to the demonic designs of nuclear weapons.
I would maintain that in finding me guilty today, you have placed your court on the wrong side of history. You have allowed yourself and this court to become the defender of this civil and mad nuclear system called “The Strategic Air Command.” Someday the family of humanity will come to know that and you and this court will be judged accordingly. In the last 12 years, over 12 years of jail time has been served collectively by people like myself for nothing more than “crossing the line.” There should be little doubt at this stage of the political nature of these proceedings. When the Sentence given far exceeds the “so-called crime”, committed, the defendant is a political prisoner .Say what you want about the “law”, judge, if you send me to jail, it’s a political sentence, and I’1l be a political prisoner. Yet, despite the political nature of these proceedings, I believe the mystery and power of faithful witnessing. For every hour, day and month that I serve in jail, the truth of my witness against nuclear weapons wi1l only be confirmed and deepened not only in my heart and soul, but also in the hearts and souls of many others, a movement of spirit that neither you nor I can control. Someday, perhaps in our lifetime, I believe a multitude of people will join me and my friends on the line at the now Strategic Nuclear Command and close the place down. We will be joined by a multitude of multitudes of people throughout the world who will put an end to all nuclear weapons and the reasons, causes, and justifications for all wars. I believe this because I believe in the reign of God; it’s Prince of Peace, his resurrection, and their here and now claims on you and me.
As you think about sentencing me, let me be very clear: I will not cooperate in any way with my imprisonment. I will do no community service by direction of the Court. I believed “crossing the line” at S.A.C. was a great community service. I will not participate in any form of probation for I am not guilty of any crime and will not willingly partake in my own imprisonment.
I want you to know judge that though SAC will soon be changed to the Strategic Nuclear Command come June, I have every intention to “cross that line” again, and I will try to invite others in any way I can to join me. I look for the day that the courts stop bringing folks like me to this courtroom, when you’ll start bringing to trial the real criminals, the leaders and the policy-makers of the SAC’s mission for the crime of global nuclear terrorism. Thank you Judge.
THE JUDGE: You are welcome. Major LaPuma.
MAJ. LAPUMA; Your Honor, the Government is mindful of the strong feelings that Father Cordaro has in this matter; however the integrity of the base and the law of the land and the need to address this offense and to deter others who may be inclined to break the law by re-entering after being barred, compels the Government to ask for a term of imprisonment sentence.
The JUDGE: All right. Well, it is the judgment of the Court that the Defendant, Frank J. Cordaro, is hereby committed to the custody of the Bureau of Prisons to be imprisoned by a term of six months. I recommend to the Bureau of Prisons that the defendant be imprisoned at the correctional facilities at Leavenworth, Yankton, or Duluth. The defendant is remanded forthwith to the custody of the United States Marshal for the purpose of being incarcerated to serve the sentence I have just imposed.
Father Cordaro, you accuse the Courts of defending the wrong people. I would respectfully submit to you that the Courts do their very best with a great deal of effort, patience, to try to defend the law, nothing more than the law, and thank God in this county that it is the law that is enacted by the people. This is a democracy and the laws that we have come from the people, and all people. Now a lot of times they are not to our liking. We disagree with them. I am sure each of us has certain laws that we disagree with and we feel the law ought to be different in some regard, but I respectfully submit to you that no person is above the law in this country, including a man of the cloth, and that the Courts therefore must uphold that law as it applies to all persons or civilization as we know it would break down.
This is apparently a law you disagree with. You disagree with the people that are running the base, or the ends of the people that are running the base, and therefore you feel that that gives you the right apparently to violate this law.
There has been over the years discussions of whether or not people have the right to violate the law, and we are not going to get into a philosophical discussion. I think you realize that if you violate the law you have to suffer the consequences of violating the law, but what I would really respectfully like to submit to you is that even though you have that right and even though every man in this land has the right probably to violate any given law and suffer the consequences of it, that it is really not the mature way to go about trying to change the law; and if every man took it upon himself to challenge any given law that he feels isn’t right and therefore shouldn’t be imposed and to bring attention to that law by his actions, then I submit to you we would have a sorry, sorry civilization and society going on in these United States.
The person who violates a drug law is no different than the person, who violates some other law for a reason that he feels is valid, and they are both violators of the law and they both must be treated in accordance with the law.
I respectfully submit to you, sir, that you would spend time better if you directed your efforts toward trying to change the law within the law and not outside of it. For that reason, you have given me no recourse but to impose the sentence I have imposed upon you. I haven’t given you any great message here of great depth or philosophy. I am sure you in your own mind, as well as with other people, have gone over the very principle that I am talking about here, but I would respectfully submit to you that I hope during your term of imprisonment and incarceration that you would give thought to trying to accomplish what you wish to accomplish within the framework of the law and not outside of it.
You, in doing what you do, cost the government, which is the people, you use in doing that resources of the people that could be used for better advantage and towards the accomplishment of great goals. I don’t see you as a martyr. I don’t admire you for what you do, Sir, you are a law violator just as anybody else who violates the laws. I remand you to the custody of the United States Marshal.