A Washington jury failed to reach a verdict Wednesday on whether to convict climate activist Ken Ward for breaking into and shutting off an oil pipeline in Burlington, Washington.
Ward, of Corbett, Oregon, is facing up to 30 years in prison on charges of sabotage and burglary for tampering with a valve on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline.
While the hung jury means Ward could face another trial in Skagit County, Washington, he and his supporters celebrated the announcement.
“We consider this a huge victory,” Ward said. “It means some members of the jury agreed with us that the problem of avoiding climate catalyst is crucial and trumps these smaller charges.”
Ward said it took a minute before the good news sunk in.
“It’s not immediately obvious what a hung jury means,” he said. “But as we were sitting there we realized: Wait a minute. No, this is not just a moment of confusion. This means a jury presented with a video of exactly what I did wasn’t willing to convict. That’s huge.”
Ward says his actions were necessary to protect the planet from climate change. The judge in the case denied Ward’s request to present a “necessity defense” in court.
With a new trial, Ward said, he will have an opportunity to ask the judge to reconsider that decision.
Ward was one of nine people arrested across the country last year in a coordinated protest; five of those arrested closed pipeline valves in an effort to stop Canadian oil from entering the U.S.
During the trial, the jury was presented with a video of Ward’s actions. Jay O’Hara, who has participated in protest actions with Ward in the past, said the hung jury in this case is “historic.”
“This is really an amazing and unprecedented move,” he said. “The jury was unable to reach conclusion that Ken was guilty of a crime when they watched the video of Ken turning the valve and turning off the flow of oil from the tar sands in Canada. The prosecution presented five witnesses describing exactly what Ken did on that day and the defense and Ken contested none of that evidence.”
Rick Weyrich of the Skagit County prosecutor’s office said no decision has been made yet about retrying the case.
“We would like to have a decision,” he said. “We don’t like hung juries. They’re kind of like ties. So, we have to start all over. It’s expensive for both sides and time consuming.”
In a statement, Ali Hounsell, a spokeswoman for Trans Mountain, expressed support for the efforts to prosecute Ward.
“Kinder Morgan’s top priority is the safety of the communities in which we operate and we are steadfast in our disappointment at the reckless actions of those involved that put both the environment and communities at risk,” she said.