Judge shoots down climate necessity defense at last minute, yet acquits pipeline protesters


A Minnesota court on Tuesday acquitted “valve turners” Emily Johnston and Annette Klapstein of all charges, in a landmark jury trial that permitted the use of a climate “necessity defense” — until a last-minute change of mind by the trial judge.

After the prosecution had made its case against the two activists, Clearwater County, Minnesota District Judge Robert Tiffany surprised the court by abruptly ruling that prosecutors had failed to meet their burden of proof that the activists had damaged a tar sands pipeline when they trespassed on private property to shut down two Enbridge Energy oil pipelines in 2016 by turning the wheels at an above-ground valve site.

Tiffany dismissed all charges against the defendants. Johnston and Klapstein were facing up to 10 years on felony counts related to the incident, and Benjamin Joldersma, part of their support team, faced misdemeanor charges for assisting them.

The case, however, was also seen as a significant test of a new type of climate defense strategy. Ahead of the case, the judge accepted that the climate necessity defense could be used by the activists in their case. As part of this, the judge agreed to let expert witnesses corroborate the defendants’ testimony that their actions were justified by the need to avert imminent climate catastrophe.

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