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    Protesters who put up tents in FSU walkway acquitted of trespassing

    By ALISA ULFERTS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published September 26, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- Florida State University president Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte didn't care that students had gathered outside his office to highlight their demands that he join an activist group opposing sweatshops.

    What he cared about, he told a jury on Wednesday, were the tents students had begun to erect on the plaza outside the Westcott building.

    "As far as I'm concerned, they had a total right to be there," D'Alemberte testified in the trial of a half-dozen students arrested on trespassing charges in March for refusing to break up their protest.

    The jury deliberated for less than two hours before acquitting the students.

    After the verdict, D'Alemberte said he might have done the same thing had he been on the jury.

    "I can't imagine any reason why these students ought to be convicted of things," D'Alemberte said. "I don't fault the police either. They were trying to keep obstructions from being put in the area."

    D'Alemberte said there has been no hostility toward the students over the protest and added that he wrote a letter to prosecutors urging them to work something out so they would not be stigmatized by the arrests.

    "I never thought it would come to this," said FSU senior Cassie Cross, 22. "I know that what we had done was right, that we had done nothing wrong."

    In March, 12 students were arrested after refusing to move their tents to a less visible location on campus, an unofficially designated "free speech" zone. Half accepted plea deals; the others went to trial. D'Alemberte, who has enjoyed a reputation as a defender of the First Amendment, approved the arrests.

    The Westcott building is so prominent it appears on FSU memorabilia and houses D'Alemberte's presidential suite. The university has said this case wasn't about free speech but about the fact that the Westcott plaza is a walkway and the tents were blocking it.

    The son of Martin A. Dyckman, St. Petersburg Times associate editor/editorial, was among those arrested. Dyckman's son is a student at a nearby community college.

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