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    Sunday, July 21, 2024

    Jury selected in port authority critic’s vandalism trial

    Activist Kevin Blacker asks a question of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski, during a news conference to denounce costs of the Connecticut State Pier project Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022, in New London. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Kevin Blacker remained mostly silent for a second day Tuesday as a state prosecutor questioned a steady stream of potential jurors for his upcoming trial.

    The Noank man, charged with second-degree criminal mischief for covering several signs in pink paint in protest over the redevelopment of State Pier in New London in 2020, took an unorthodox approach to the process.

    Seated in a New London courtroom, Blacker declined to actively participate in proceedings Monday and Tuesday as six jurors and two alternate jurors were chosen.

    Blacker, who represents himself in the case, would not have attended jury selection if Judge Jassette Ann-Marie Henry had not rejected his request for a waiver. Henry warned Blacker that voir dire ― the process in which attorneys question potential jurors to figure out if they can be fair and impartial ― is a critical step in a trial.

    “If I excuse you, there will be no one here to protect your rights,” Henry warned Blacker.

    Blacker acceded to the judge’s order to remain in the courtroom but initially declined to participate or even speak at the start of the proceeding. He politely told the judge it was his constitutional right to remain silent. He said he would seek to do so “without being disrespectful to the court.”

    Questions the judge posed in the presence of the potential jurors were met with an awkward silence and nods from Blacker.

    “Let the record show that Mr. Blacker stood and shook his head indicating ‘no,’” Henry said, after asking if Blacker had any questions for a would-be juror.

    “I haven’t seen this done,” Henry said at one point.

    Henry, on Tuesday, told Blacker that to create an accurate record of the proceeding he would need to say something. Blacker countered that responding “appears to be at odds with my right to remain silent.”

    “Unless I am ordered to do so, I intend to remain silent,” Blacker said.

    But by Tuesday, at Henry’s insistence, Blacker had stopped nodding his head and started answering, “Thank you, I have no questions.”

    Blacker, who sent a box of diapers to the New London County State’s Attorney’s Office in May, said it was part of a strategy.

    “Conventional wisdom says you should participate,” he said. “I’m trying to avoid the prejudice of familiarity ... an action that shows a faith in my peers. I have so much faith in my peers I’ll take any six (jurors).”

    How Blacker intends to counter the state’s evidence ― the highlight being Blacker’s confession ― is unknown.

    A longtime critic of the Connecticut Port Authority, Blacker has said he painted over the state-owned signs leading to State Pier as an act of civil disobedience. The pink paint was a reference to the pink house razed in New London that was at the center of a national debate over the use of eminent domain.

    Blacker, who made an unsuccessful run for the 2nd Congressional District seat in 2022, claims he was targeted for criminal prosecution based in part on the fact that detectives from the state police major crime squad investigated the vandalism case and initially charged him with a felony based on an inaccurate estimate of the cost of the repairs. The $1,663 estimate was provided by Connecticut Port Authority Board Chairman David Kooris.

    The figure was later reduced to $586 and the charge was changed to second-degree criminal mischief, a misdemeanor.

    State prosecutors offered Blacker a plea agreement to settle the case short of trial: pay the $586 and the state would dismiss, or nolle, the charge, as prosecutors in Hartford had done after Blacker painted a door at the state Capitol. Blacker declined the offer, and had told Henry he would pay the restitution but wanted an apology from the prosecutors and state police detectives “or whoever sent them.”

    The state has not responded to that request.

    Deputy Assistant State’s Attorney Alexandra Aksterowicz, who is prosecuting Blacker’s case, did offer an explanation as to why major crime detective Justin Clachrie investigated the vandalism.

    Aksterowicz, in court, said her understanding is that Clachrie had already investigated Blacker for the possibility of a crime for a “vaguely threatening” email Blacker sent to Gov. Ned Lamont.

    Aksterowicz said she did not intend to bring the email up at trial in front of jurors because it could be considered a “prior bad act.” Blacker could open the door to that subject, however, if he brings it up during his questioning.

    “The email I wrote was in no way threatening,” Blacker said. “Had I done something wrong, I would have been charged with a crime.”

    On Tuesday, outside the courtroom, Blacker admitted that jury selection had been awkward at times but said he was standing up for his rights and “that might make people feel uncomfortable.”

    Blacker’s trial is scheduled to start Thursday. Second-degree criminal mischief is a class A misdemeanor and carries a maximum sentence of 364 days in prison.

    g.smith@theday.com

    Editor’s note: This version was updated to clarify that the substance of Blacker’s “vaguely threatening” email was not discussed in court and to correct the spelling of detective Justin Clachrie.

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