LYNNWOOD, Wash. - Five activists on trial for trying to block oil trains in Everett are trying a new defense strategy: arguing their actions were justified because of climate change.
A standing-room-only crowd filled the courtroom, an unusual sight where misdemeanor trials are held.
But the Snohomish County deputy prosecutor's opening statement gave a sense of why this case has garnered such attention.
"For eight hours these five defendants blocked a rail line," said Adam Sturdivant, "on the BNSF property at Third, Delta yard network."
That September day in 2014, the five defendants chained themselves to chairs, climbed atop a tripod erected on the tracks of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Rail Yard in Everett.
Defendant Abby Brockway spoke from a perch on the tripod.
"I feel like I'm taking back control," said Brockway.
The prosecutor said their act cost the railroad $10,000 in lost revenue. They are guilty of trespassing, he said "for very simple reasons. The BNSF Delta yard is not their property. BNSF was legally practicing their business."
But defendant Patrick Mazza, who is representing himself, said that business is threatening the environment.
"And we're going to present evidence about the oil train threat," said Mazza.
The case is being closely watched by national organizations who see this as a trial about the dire effects of climate change.
"Their direct action, their civil disobedience was a necessary act to prevent the greater harm of climate change," said Tim DeChristopher of Climate Disobedience Center. "In this case, the greater harm of the risk of oil explosions as the trains go through local communities."
Testimony is expected to last through Friday.