69-year-old schoolteacher gives peace a chance in USA

Meet the anti-war movement's newest folk hero: 69-year-old Rosemarie Jackowski, whose arrest during an anti-war protest has made her a cause celebre.

A prosecutor's plan to retry her for blocking traffic while protesting the Iraq war is turning the feisty 4-foot-10 inch (1.47 meters) former schoolteacher into a darling of the dove crowd.

Bloggers have rallied behind her, peaceniks are deluging her with messages of support, and advocates have established a defense fund.

"She's not a loony toon by any means," said Andrew Schoerke, 73, a retired U.S. Navy captain who was arrested with her. "She's a very down to earth, sensible, caring person with some very strong convictions."

Jackowski was one of a dozen protesters arrested at a March 20, 2003 protest, staged within hours of the start of the United States' "shock and awe" bombing campaign in Iraq. Carrying a sign that read "Impeach Bush" on one side and listed U.S. "war crimes" on the other, Jackowski refused police orders to get out of the street and was arrested for blocking traffic.

"It was really hard for me to stand there and just hold my sign," she said in an interview. "I came from a strict ethnic, religious background. I was taught to never ever be disobedient to anyone - teacher, parent, policeman. That was my very first act of disobedience to anyone."

Asked during booking whether she had any aliases, she replied: "Yes, I do. `Mom."'

To police, it was no laughing matter.

The protest clogged traffic in this southern Vermont town's busiest intersection, delaying at least one hospital-bound ambulance and infuriating truck drivers and others.

"It wasn't about the war in Iraq," said police Lt. Paul Doucette, who ordered the arrests at the scene. "It was public safety at risk. This whole scene could've turned very ugly very quickly. So we did what was best. Now all of them have paid the price, except this one."

The other members of the so-called "Bennington 12" pleaded guilty and were accepted into a court-ordered program for first-time offenders. Jackowski refused, saying she did nothing wrong. After a one-day trial, a jury took less than 15 minutes to find her guilty.

She appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court, her attorney insisting that the disorderly persons charge could only stick if it were proven she intended to disrupt traffic.

On Nov. 22, the justices threw out her conviction, saying trial Judge David Suntag erred in telling jurors they could convict her if they believed she was "practically certain" her conduct would cause public disruption.

Last week, Bennington County State's Attorney William Wright said he would seek to try her again.

"At this juncture, we are going forward with the case," he told the Bennington Banner newspaper. "We think that the evidence was overwhelming in our view, and we think that the jury should have another opportunity to decide Ms. Jackowski's guilt or innocence."

Wright, who lost his re-election and will be leaving office next month, did not return several calls seeking comment.

"It's time for everybody to just walk away from this case," said Stephen Saltonstall, her attorney. "This is an elderly woman who did something out of conscience. I believe she has been punished enough."

For her part, Jackowski - who gives her grandchildren "Give peace a chance" T-shirts and collects peace signs in her modest home - insists that the bombing of Iraqi civilians during the war is grounds enough for her actions. She has no intention of pleading guilty or admitting she was wrong.

"I will never say I'm sorry for what I did," she said Wednesday. "I don't care if they want to lock me up for life."

She could get 60 days in jail if convicted. First, she needs an attorney for the retrial although no date has been set.

Saltonstall has asked to withdraw as her lawyer because the prosecutor who handled the first trial has since joined his firm. She has been contacted by others, but money is an object. Jackowski, who lives alone, subsists on pension checks and said she can't afford high-priced counsel.

"I'm just a little old grandmother who has been really, really affected by the fact that my government is bombing children in Iraq. I can't tell you how deeply I feel about this," she said.

Doucette, the police lieutenant, doesn't buy it.

"What upsets me personally is `Oh, they're going to send a grandmother to jail.' This isn't about being a grandmother, it isn't about being 70 years old. It's about `You broke the law and now you have to suffer the consequences."'

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