After 2½ years, fair [evangelism] trespassing case dropped
Thursday, 9 March 1995
By TOM PRICE
ELKHART — After nearly 2½ years of court proceedings, the state has dropped criminal trespassing charges against a South Bend evangelist arrested July 27, 1992, for distributing religious literature at the 1992 Elkhart County 4 H Fair.
Deputy Prosecutor George W. Biddlecome filed a motion March 1 in Elkhart Superior Court 2 to dismiss the case, stating “the victim of the offense charged desires that prosecution of this case be terminated.”
A representative of the Elkhart County Fair Board sent a letter with the request to the prosecutor’s office.
“We complied with that request,” Biddlecome said. “We’re not obligated to comply with requests of that sort by victims. It’s been my experience we attempt to accommodate them unless we have a compelling reason not to.”
Neither Peggy Miller, who was president of the Fair Board at the time, nor Fair Board attorney Robert J. Hepler could be reached for comment. But on previous occasions, Miller said a ruling: on behalf of Spaulding would result in “chaos” and open up the fairgrounds “to virtually any private or commercial interest.”
The dismissal four weeks before the case was to go to trial in Superior Court 2 before Special Judge Mary E. Davis, stunned defendant Gary L. Spaulding and his attorney Gregory Ball, both of South Bend.
“It feels awkward, primarily because I was a witness of the initial zeal with which I was swooped down upon and subsequently arrested,” said Spaulding, 42. “It’s puzzling to me 2½ years later to see all that zeal is gone. I still have the same zeal for telling people about Jesus.”
Does that mean he plans to attend the 1995 Elkhart County 4 H Fair or any other events before then at the fairgrounds?
“I can’t speak for the Holy Spirit,” he said. “I wish to follow the stirrings of the Holy Spirit. I can only simply say I wish to be involved in sharing Jesus out in public places, including county fairs.”
Spaulding was arrested for distributing a free “Jesus newspaper” and displaying an 8-foot wooden cross without first paying a $350 display fee required of all fair merchants and vendors by the Elkhart County 4 H & Agricultural Exposition Inc.
He spent seven days in jail for the misdemeanor charge and could have faced a maximum of 12 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. Although Spaulding at various stages was given the option of avoiding arrest, leaving jail or plea bargaining, he refused to settle for even a $1 fine.
During the lengthy pre-trial phase of this case, the statute of limitations expired, Ball said.
“In a way, it’s a frustrating feeling,” Ball said, “That means Gary has not been vindicated nor have their charges been proven. There has been no final ruling by any judge as to what happened.”
Three judges have heard arguments during the case’s 2½-year time in the court system. A pre-trial hearing began in October 1992 in Elkhart County Court’s Goshen division before Judge Olga Stickel. When Stickel took an eight-week medical leave, the parties agreed to transfer the case to Superior Court 2 and Judge Stephen Platt. As the court prepared to start jury selection, Platt excused himself from the case because of previous association with Elkhart County 4 H.
Attorney Mary E. Davis was appointed a special judge in the case by the Indiana Supreme Court after unsuccessful attempts to locate a judge. Each of the three judges in the case ruled in favor of pre-trial motions by the prosecution to limit Spaulding’s use of his constitutional religious freedom as a defense for his actions.
Europeans are surprised to hear that there is terrorism & religious persecution in the United States, with no judicial remedy. Therefore, I have gone to these great efforts to provide proof. — G.S.