MOUNT VERNON — The jury deliberating the case of Kenneth Ward failed to reach a verdict, and a mistrial was declared Wednesday in Skagit County Superior Court.
Ward, 60, of Corbett, Oregon, was on trial for felony burglary and sabotage charges for trying to shut off an oil pipeline Oct. 11 at a Kinder Morgan facility west of Burlington.
He said while testifying that he targeted the pipeline in an attempt to raise awareness about climate change, and he hoped to inspire a transition off fossil fuels.
Skagit County deputy prosecutor Sloan Johnson argued Ward’s actions were criminal.
It is now up to Johnson to decide whether to retry the case, Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney Rich Weyrich said. A decision is expected within the next few weeks.
During much of Ward’s three-day trial, about 80 people filled the courtroom.
Many came to show support for Ward’s message, including some from his home state of Oregon, climate scientists and other environmental activists. Some came to shoot footage for a documentary film about Ward and his role in environmental activism.
Weyrich told the Skagit Valley Herald he believes Ward’s case is the first time climate change arguments have been made in Skagit County Superior Court.
Climate change concerns and climate science were brought up during jury selection, during Ward’s testimony and in the closing argument by Ward’s attorney, Ralph Hurvitz.
Ward said during his testimony that learning of the threats of rising temperatures, melting ice and sea level rise due to climate change caused him to worry about the future of the planet for his son.
Hurvitz said those fears, combined with Ward’s background in environmental advocacy and his father’s background in environmental science, led Ward to feel civil disobedience was necessary to influence a reduction in the burning of fossil fuels.
“That led him to believe it was a matter of survival, not just for him, but for everyone on the planet,” Hurvitz said.
Ward is not alone in feeling that way, and on Oct. 11 he was one of five people who broke into pipeline facilities in four states and attempted to shut them down. Each pipeline targeted during the break-ins carries Canadian tar sands oil into the United States.
The Kinder Morgan pipeline delivers that crude oil to four oil refineries in Whatcom and Skagit counties.
In a Climate Disobedience Center news release, Ward said he is pleased with the outcome of his trial.
“In five hours, the jury was unable to decide that with all of the evidence against me, including the video of me closing the valve, that this was a crime. I didn’t contest a single piece of the evidence, only presented my story and evidence of catastrophic climate change. This is a tremendous outcome both for me and for humanity,” he said.
The Climate Disobedience Center supported the Oct. 11 pipeline break-ins. Among Ward’s many affiliations with environmental groups, he is a founding member of the center, and is on the board of the related Climate Disobedience Fund.
Ward was the first of those arrested Oct. 11 to go to trial. Three other trials are expected to take place.
In a separate case, Ward is facing a misdemeanor charge of trespassing. That charge is for Ward’s participation in the Break Free PNW protests in May.
Ward was one of 52 arrested for blocking the BNSF Railway tracks leading to the Shell and Tesoro oil refineries at March Point near Anacortes.
The first trial is set to begin today in Skagit County District Court for Seattle residents Scott McClay and Lisa Morrow, Langley resident Gabrielle Thomson and Shoreline resident Hannah Vietmeier. Each is facing a misdemeanor trespassing charge, according to court documents.