Mary Redway is doing OK after her release Monday from a four-day jail sentence.
“I’m fine. I’m out. I’m a free woman,” she said.
Convicted Oct. 19 of misdemeanor disorderly conduct by Surrogate Judge Thomas Merrick, Redway, 64, and 27-year-old Alexander Simon are the first defendants to be sentenced to serve jail time in criminal cases related to the Dakota Access protests.
The South Central District Court and Water Protector Legal Collective confirmed they are the first defendants to receive such sentences: four days for Redway, 18 for Simon.
"Other cases have included incarceration, which was either suspended or offset by credit for time served," trial court administrator Donna Wunderlich said.
Redway and Simon were co-defendants last week in a two-day misdemeanor court trial alongside three others, including photojournalist Sara Lafleur-Vetter, whose charges Merrick dismissed. It was Merrick’s first trial for cases related to the pipeline protests.
He found Redway guilty of disorderly conduct and Simon guilty of physical obstruction of a government function and disorderly conduct, all misdemeanors. They were among 140 arrestees from protest activities on Oct. 22, 2016, along the pipeline route in southern Morton County.
WPLC decried Redway’s and Simon’s sentences as disparate treatment and bias by Merrick. Redway said she thinks he wanted to make a statement by sending her to jail. She also owes $1,750 in fees.
“It was very clear to me that he was very antagonistic towards me but most particularly my attorney,” she said.
Merrick said the sentences he handed down cannot be compared to others as "the judiciary is independent."
"I intended the sentences I imposed to be neither too harsh nor too lenient," he said. "If that organization thinks I missed the mark, I do not see how that demonstrates any bias. Mr. Simon professed financial problems, so I waived all his fees. Ms. Redway had steady income and owns a home so her fine and fees seem appropriate."
Merrick sparred several times with the four attorneys representing the five co-defendants during the trial's first day. He admonished defender Erica Shively that she couldn’t replay an evidence video because it was lunchtime.
Morton County Assistant State's Attorney Brian Grosinger reportedly did not recommend jail time for Redway and Simon.
In a statement, WPLC criticized Merrick for sentencing Simon to incarceration even though Simon was a teacher in New Mexico who could lose his job.
"The prosecutorial discretion and conviction of some and not others has been arbitrary and targets what police and state's attorneys call 'agitators,'" the group said.
Of the more than 800 protest-related cases, 445 are now closed, 278 are open or reopened, 105 are inactive and one is on appeal, Wunderlich said Tuesday.
Merrick has more protest-related trials on his calendar in November and December.
"Other cases assigned to Judge Merrick, which are closed, have included dismissals and/or plea agreements," Wunderlich said.
Only a handful of defendants in protest-related cases have been convicted. Most have had charges dismissed or reached plea agreements.
Redway said she’s in Mandan for now, volunteering with WPLC. She added she’s not yet sure what’s next for her after criminal proceedings that saw postponements, dropped charges, new charges and travel from her Rhode Island home.
The sentence she received was unusual given the crime, according to Redway.
"I think it tells you the absurdity, the vindictiveness, the quality that the judge displayed the entire time to me and my attorney and the courtroom,” she said.
"These are the only DAPL defendants I have sentenced, so I do not understand the complaint about disparate treatment," Merrick said.
Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.