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Mistrial in 2019 Oregon oil train trespassing case a victory for the climate, attorney says

Activists were protesting Zenith Energy's storage and transport of crude oil from Canada.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A court case against five people who blocked oil trains in April of 2019 ended in a mistrial, but some are calling the outcome a huge victory for the climate.

It all has to do with the kind of argument the defendants used. It's called the climate necessity defense.

The five climate activists were arrested last April for trespassing in Northwest Portland. The group brought in a tiny house and a truckload of dirt and created a garden atop train tracks used by Zenith Energy.

The activists were protesting the company's storage and transport of crude oil from Canada.

"We fully expected to be arrested," explained Mike Horner. "It was part of our strategy."

They were arrested and the case went to trial, which last week ended in a mistrial.

Five of the six jurors found the defendants not guilty even though they never denied their guilt.

"We advertised it actually," said Horner.

"We showed a video of our entire action," explained Jan Zuckerman. "The dumping of the soil, the planting of the garden, us out there on the tracks... they saw it all."

The climate necessity defense is also known as the choice of evils defense.

"Just like we have defenses for self defense, defense of others and so on where violence can be justified, in the same way, civil disobedience can be justified if the threat of what they're trying to prevent is so great... their conduct is reasonable and necessary," explained Portland attorney Greg Kafoury.

Kafoury was not involved in the case. He said the fact that the majority of the jury found the defendants not guilty is an enormously important legal victory and the outcome could very well set the stage for similar trials in the future where jurors can decide whether threats to our planet outweigh the crime.

"Going forward, if other judges have the courage to adopt this defense, you're going to see a great deal more action against environmental polluters," Kafoury said. "This is victory for the earth's lungs."

Multnomah County District Attorney's Office spokesman Brent Weisberg said they are carefully considering their next step.

The climate activists said they hope there is a retrial, so they can use the climate necessity defense again.

RELATED: 11 activists arrested at Zenith Energy plant in NW Portland

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