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Tree-Sit Supporter Hangs Jury at Trial

By Richard Brenneman
Friday January 04, 2008

The coordinator of the tree-sit at Memorial Stadium represented himself in a court battle with UC Berkeley that ended in a hung jury Wednesday afternoon. 

The vote was 11 to 1 in favor of conviction of Eric Eisenberg, who is better known as Ayr to tree-sitters, campus police and media readers and watchers, when jurors announced they were deadlocked just before 5 p.m. 

Whether or not he faces a second trial on the misdemeanor criminal charge—something that will be the subject of a Jan 23 hearing—he still faces trial in a civil courtroom for the same offense. 

A hearing to assign a judge to the civil case is scheduled two days later, also in Oakland. 

The criminal charge carries a six-month jail term, while the civil offense carries a five-day term. 

“It doesn’t really seem fair they can try you for the same offense in two different courts,” Ayr said. 

He was arrested Nov. 19 after clipping a bag of oranges on a line tree-sitters were using to receive supplies from supporters on the ground and charged with violating a court order banning aid to the protesters who have been camped out for more than a year in the branches along the stadium’s western wall. 

The protesters are fighting plans to level a grove of Coastal Live Oaks and other trees to make way for the Student Athlete High Performance Center, a $125 million high-tech gym and office complex. 

The university won a court order in October that declared the tree-sit illegal and bars support of the airborne protesters. 

While he has been representing himself in the criminal case, Ayr said attorney Dennis Cunning-ham is handling his civil prosecution. 

Karen Pickett of the Bay Area Headwaters Forest Coalition, a supporter of the stadium-site protest, attended the two half-day court sessions Dec. 28 and Wednesday. 

“He acted as his own counsel, and when he testified on his own behalf, he questioned himself. It was a little bit comical, but very effective,” she said. 

“Thank heavens one woman decided it shouldn’t be illegal to give food to osomeone,” she said, referring to the jury’s lone holdout. 

Pickett said the protester had been arrested after a private security guard at the grove told him he could attach the oranges to the support line. 

Ayr said he had been scrupulous in following the letter of the law, because he didn’t want to jeopardize his role in supporting the protesters. 

Meanwhile, the protesters will hold their weekly 2 p.m. gathering at the grove, where volunteer grandmothers send up food to the tree-sitters. 

The Daily Planet was unable to reach UC attorney Michael Goldstein late Thursday for an official comment on the case.