Four more defendants facing federal charges over an October 2020 “rescue action” protest at a Washington, D.C.-based abortion clinic will begin trial this week.
Jonathan Darnel — one of the nine defendants listed in the 2022 indictment accusing protesters of a felony conspiracy against rights and felony violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act — said he will plead not guilty.
“I am definitely not guilty of the charges leveled against me, which is rather ironic that I should find myself in this position,” Darnel, a professed Christian, told Fox News Digital in an interview.
“Nevertheless, if a jury finds me guilty of FACE even erroneously, it would be an honor because the kids are worthy of protection,” he said.
Last week, a jury handed guilty verdicts to five other pro-life protesters listed in the same two-count indictment — including director of activism for the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising Lauren Handy. Each defendant faces 11-year sentences and up to $350,000 in fines.
“As the evidence at trial showed, the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to create a blockade at the reproductive health care clinic to prevent the clinic from providing, and patients from receiving, reproductive health services,” the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Tuesday.
Paulette Harlow, 73, also one of the defendants facing trial, told Fox News Digital she was “not surprised” by last week’s verdict.
“Because the trial was very, very biased,” she said. “And to try to label them [defendants] as violent, or any of the pro-life people as violent is very, very false, and it’s just meant to sway people away from what we’re trying to do. And what we’re trying to do is save lives.”
Prosecutors argued the pro-life activists violated the 1994 FACE Act, a federal law implemented under former President Clinton that prohibits physical force, threats of force or intentionally damaging property to prevent someone from obtaining or providing abortion services.
U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who presided over the trial, ordered the defendants immediately detained after the verdict was announced Tuesday. Kollar-Kotelly, a Clinton-nominee, will also preside over next week’s trial.
Stephen Crampton, senior counsel for the nonprofit legal firm Thomas More Society which represents Handy, told Fox New Digital in an interview Friday “it’s hard to envision” a verdict “that would be substantially different from what we’ve already seen.”
“They waited a year and a half to file this action,” Crampton said. “If indeed this was some sort of dire offense and the defendants ought to be incarcerated, why in the world, does the government wait a year and a half to file the charges?”
Crampton said this is not the only indictment targeting pro-life advocates in the country and called it a “political witch hunt” with a left-wing bias.
“The climate activists were out there [in D.C.] gluing their hands to the streets, shutting down traffic and everything, you think there’s any chance the feds are going to prosecute those people or try to put them in prison for 11 years?” he asked.
Crampton added it was hard to find a “fair jury,” and that most of the jurors were either Planned Parenthood donors or pro-choice advocates. He called Washington, D.C., the “most pro-abortion city in America.”
He also argued the defendants did not engage in a “conspiracy,” since most of the demonstrations were “loosely-organized.”
According to the DOJ’s March 2022 indictment, seven of the defendants traveled to Washington, D.C., from other states “to participate in a clinic blockade that was directed by Handy and was broadcast on Facebook by Darnel.”
The defendants “forcefully entered the clinic and set about blockading two clinic doors using their bodies, furniture, chains and ropes,” according to the indictment.
During the demonstration, Darnel live-streamed more than an hour of his co-defendants’ activities and posted it to Facebook.
The indictment also alleged the incident resulted in an altercation that led to a clinic employee being hospitalized for an ankle injury, though it is unclear how the injury was caused.