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'They'll find you' judge says of U.S. Marshals when SOA Watch protester refuses to return for trial

Michael Walli, one of four SOA Watch protesters arrested Sunday for crossing onto Fort Benning, was arraigned Monday morning in federal court.

U.S. Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth presided over the 10 a.m. hearing in which Walli, 61, was read the charge against him and apprised of his rights. During the proceeding, which lasted about 40 minutes, Walli made it clear he did not want bond and asked the judge to allow him to remain in the Harris County Jail until his January 2010 trial.

Faircloth refused the protester's request and ordered him to be released on his own recognizance.

"If you choose not to come back, find a good hiding place from the (U.S.) Marshals, because they will be looking for you," Faircloth told the defendant.

Walli is accused of trespassing on Fort Benning shortly before 9 a.m. through the I-185 access control point along with Father Luis Vitale, 77, of Oakland, Calif., Nancy Gwin, 63, of Syracuse, N.Y., and Kenneth Hayes, 60, of Austin, Texas.

Unlike his fellow demonstrators, Walli refused to post bond following his arrest by military police.

This was Walli's second time crossing onto the Army post during the annual protest, according to Ruth O'Neill -- a Missouri-based attorney who works with SOA Watch and who Faircloth appointed Monday to represent Walli. He was convicted in 2004 of unlawfully entering federal property. Following that conviction, Walli received an official letter forever banning him from the installation.

All four protesters face charges of entering military, naval or Coast Guard property, which merits up to six months in prison upon conviction.

At one point in his hearing, Walli said he wanted to remain in jail until his January trial because he believes his continued incarceration in a facility proximate to Fort Benning would draw attention to the perceived human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation -- formerly the School of the Americas. The institute is located on Fort Benning and trains Latin American soldiers.

"You can't see these crimes from the Harris County Jail," Faircloth countered before ordering Walli to return to Columbus on Jan. 25 for his trial. Vitale, Gwin and Hayes are also required to appear in court on January 25 and 26 to stand trial.

Following the hearing, O'Neill said her client may be resisting the judge's order because he doesn't have the money to return to Columbus. She also said the Duluth, Minn., man indicated he wanted to remain in jail in solidarity and support of those who have been wrongly incarcerated and can't afford bond.

Each protester, including Walli, was released on two conditions: That they would be present for the trial and that they would contact the probation office for the Columbus Division of U.S. District Court in the event of a change of address.

Walli, who stated repeatedly throughout Monday's hearing that he would not voluntarily return to Columbus, additionally told Faircloth, "I walk out and it's goodbye."

Faircloth responded: "I doubt that, but you may think that if you like."

If Walli fails to appear in court in late January, Faircloth said he will issue a bench warrant for the defendant's arrest and send the U.S. Marshals after him.

"And if you're in this country, they'll find you," Faircloth told Walli. "And if you're not in this country they'll find you."

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