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War foes get day in court and sentences

5 activists explain Sherborn protest

Listening as Lewis Randa, director of The Peace Abbey, a multifaith retreat in Sherborn, spoke in Natick District Court yesterday were (from left) Carol Coakley, Louise Coleman, Sarah Fuhro, and Judy Rich, who participated in the Jan. 10 war protest. (JOANNE RATHE/GLOBE STAFF)

NATICK -- One by one, in a packed but hushed courtroom, five protesters denounced the war in Iraq yesterday, as they accepted their punishment for blocking traffic in Sherborn in an act of civil disobedience.

In one of five statements read politely at Natick District Court, Lewis Randa, 59, of Sherborn called the war "illegal and immoral" as he addressed Judge Sarah Singer.

Sarah Fuhro, 65, of Natick, the mother of an Army Reserve soldier who recently returned from Iraq, pleaded "to stop the killing and maiming of our soldiers and the Iraqi people."

Louise Coleman, 62, of Sherborn, said, "I have to do whatever I can to stop this out-of-control, insane war."

After all defendants pleaded no contest to charges of disturbing the peace, Sherborn police Sergeant Michael McLaughlin, the town's police prosecutor, clapped Randa on the shoulder and wished him well.

"All these people are nice people," McLaughlin said after the court proceedings. "They're dedicated to their cause. We didn't arrest them because of their beliefs. We arrested them because of their activity, which created a dangerous situation."

The defendants -- who also included Judy Rich, 69, of Natick and Carol Coakley of Millis -- were placed on probation, had their cases continued for six months without a finding, and were ordered to perform 10 hours each of community service. If the defendants do not commit a crime for the next six months, the cases will be dropped.

The group used a metal chain on the evening of Jan. 10 to block one lane of traffic on Route 27 in Sherborn, just as President Bush was announcing his plan to send additional troops to Iraq.

The defendants, who staged the protest near a statue of Gandhi on the grounds of The Peace Abbey, a multifaith retreat where Randa is director, had been warned twice to leave the street.

"Our goal was to have this moment to speak to the judge and explain our motives," said Randa, who was discharged from the Army National Guard as a conscientious objector in 1971.

About 30 supporters of the defendants filled the seats in the small courtroom to hear the statements, which followed a small demonstration outside the courthouse that featured crosses and empty combat boots placed in snowbanks along Route 135.