Longform: Cecily McMillan Faces Prison Time. Where's the Justice in That?
Police remove Cecily McMillan from a bus they'd commandeered for prisoner transport at Zuccotti Park on the night of St. Patrick's Day
Photo by Zach D. Roberts
Read our May 19 update to this story here.
On a normal day, it's not hard to get to the 11th floor of 100 Centre Street, the hulking gray building that houses much of Manhattan's criminal court system. You pass through a set of gold-rimmed doors and a metal detector and step into a dingy elevator, where no one speaks and some of your fellow riders might be in handcuffs, fresh from central booking in the basement.
On Monday, May 5, though, the crowd trying to get into Judge Ronald Zweibel's courtroom had a harder time. Security had set up a second screening post outside the courtroom doors. Phones were not permitted. Purses were pawed through, wallets opened, and everyone was wanded a second time for weapons. Inside, 33 officers ringed the room.
"I've never felt so safe," an audience member cracked, half under his breath. A couple of officers swiveled their heads toward him. He shut up.
Behind the squadron at the front of the room, Cecily McMillan was just visible. Accused of assaulting a police officer, the 25-year-old stood at the defense table flanked by her attorneys, Martin Stolar and Rebecca Heinegg. McMillan wore a floaty white dress, gray blazer, and heels in a subdued red. She paled as the jury filed in past her. None of them looked her way.
For nearly a month, these eight women and four men watched two competing versions of McMillan play out in the courtroom. The Cecily of the defense was a peaceful activist, a former cheerleader with a dorky enthusiasm for the political process and a naïve conviction that "the state" — police, politicians, the Democratic Party — can effect radical social change.
The prosecution described someone else altogether: a drama queen, a habitual liar, a drunken seizure-faker. It was that Cecily, they argued, who arrived at a March 17, 2012, Occupy Wall Street demonstration armed with liquid courage and brazenly assaulted a police officer, elbowing him so forcefully that his vision blurred and he sustained a cut on his face and a black eye.
Now, as the jury foreman stood, verdict in hand, after three hours of deliberation, McMillan grew paler still, until the skin around her mouth appeared blue. She stared straight ahead.
A murmur of dismay swept the room.
Judge Zweibel dismissed the jury. Assistant District Attorney Erin Choi, the lead prosecutor, asked that McMillan be jailed until her May 19 sentencing.
"That's not appropriate," Stolar objected. "Ms. McMillan has attended every single court appearance knowing exactly what the outcome could be. . . . She is not someone who's likely to cut and run." He asked that his client continue to remain free on bail.
"The defendant is remanded," the judge replied curtly.
At that, a row of McMillan's supporters stood, pointed at the judge, and began chanting, "Shame! Shame! Shame!"
Security officers shouted at the protesters to sit down. When that proved ineffective, they wrestled the noncompliant back into their seats. A fresh wave of officers poured through a side door, zip-tie handcuffs at the ready.
"Everybody out!" one yelled, and they began clearing the room.
The protesters, still chanting, were removed. The hallway became a mass of outraged humanity; two people trying to capture video of the fracas said later that court security officers forced them to delete the files . On the sidewalk outside, a group of McMillan supporters who call themselves Justice for Cecily gathered along with Stolar for a press conference. Many looked near tears.
"Will Cecily be coming out this front door?" one former occupier asked hopefully, evidently not having absorbed what had just happened.
"Cecily is not coming out," Stolar replied.
As he spoke, the newly minted convict was being escorted through a back door and loaded onto a bus bound for Rikers Island.
Following the May 5 verdict, McMillan supporters in Zuccotti Park hold up light boards bearing her name.
On March 17, 2012, James McMillan was en route to a St. Patrick's Day celebration in Houston with his wife when his daughter texted him a photo. Cecily was a vision in green: green skirt, green tights, green eyeliner, green nails, green coat .
"Don't you dare get arrested in that outfit," he admonished her over the phone.
The younger McMillan said she had no such plans. St. Patrick's Day was her day off from Occupy Wall Street, her break from the rallying and demonstrating and endless meetings that had dominated the past six months of her life, even after city officials cleared the occupiers from the Lower Manhattan plaza known as Zuccotti Park. By day, she was a graduate student at the New School and a nanny for two families. She and one of her charges, a six-year-old girl, had spent much of the last two weeks shopping for green clothes. A college friend was due in from out of town, and they were planning to paint the town.
The two-month occupation had ended in a police raid the night of November 15, 2011. The occupiers had always known Zuccotti couldn't last forever, and they gamely held marches and rallies elsewhere. But much of the wind had gone out of their sails. By March, their general fund was rapidly drying up, depleted in part by bail payments for arrested members. Nonetheless, a six-month celebration at Zuccotti was planned for March 17.
The mood started out festive, despite a handful of arrests at a morning march around the Financial District. Children and parents drew with sidewalk chalk. Erstwhile occupiers arrived and greeted their old tent neighbors.
As day turned to night, a cadre of police officers watched as activists began unrolling blankets and flattened cardboard boxes: The occupiers were planning a sleepover. At about 11:30, an officer announced through a bullhorn that the park required a midnight cleaning and that everyone would have to go.
By then, McMillan would later testify, she and her friend Lara Wasserman were at Zuccotti, looking to rendezvous with McMillan's friend Jake Stevens and continue their revelry. She recalled a police officer approaching her, saying it was time to leave. She headed out of the park, texting as she walked.
Suddenly she felt a hand grab her right breast from behind. She was pulled backward, then flung forward onto her face.
McMillan awoke to the sensation of rubber treads pressed against her cheek. (Fellow occupiers' testimony would reveal the rubber as the floor of a city bus police had commandeered for prisoner transport.) Sometime later, she was dimly conscious of being back on the sidewalk with something covering her nose and mouth. (It was an oxygen mask.) When she fully regained consciousness, she was confined to a hospital bed, handcuffed and under arrest. Stevens visited hours later, and she told him she feared her ribs were broken.
Officer Grantley Bovell's recollection did not jibe with McMillan's. Bovell would tell jurors he'd arrived at Zuccotti on the afternoon of March 17 to pull an overtime shift. Soon after the order came to clear the park, he'd noticed a young woman in green screaming at a female officer. He calmed her, put a hand on her shoulder, and began walking her out. When the woman yelled, "Are you filming this?" Bovell testified, he turned to see who she was addressing, whereupon she crouched, leaped, and elbowed him in the eye.
He felt a sharp pain. McMillan tried to run. He grabbed her, she began to fall, and he fell on top of her. For five minutes or more, she rolled around on the sidewalk, refusing to be handcuffed and complaining she couldn't breathe.
"If you can speak to me, you can breathe," Bovell recalled having told her as he escorted her to a holding area.
Officers and civilians crowd around McMillan on the commandeered bus.
Zach D. Roberts
Even a cop slugger has to come from somewhere.
"She has a big heart and wants to make a difference," James McMillan says of his daughter. "She's very passionate about life and helping those not as fortunate as her."
Growing up, Cecily McMillan shuttled between Beaumont, Texas, and Atlanta, Georgia. Her parents divorced when she was eight, and she has said that her mother, with whom she lived until high school, struggled with depression. She moved in with her father, who worked at a Domino's for much of her childhood. Summers were spent with her dad's parents in Atlanta. (Her younger brother, also named James, is serving seven years at a Texas prison. According to court records, he was convicted in 2009 of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.)
Both Cecily and her father could be strong-willed. They began to butt heads when she was 17, and she moved out of his house and in with Nyrobi Moss, who for several years had been her teacher at a theater summer camp. Moss says she became the teen's legal guardian after Cecily's mother signed over custody.
Cecily transferred from a predominantly white high school to a predominantly black one. (The Moss family is black.) Her mother is Mexican, but to the girls at her new high school, she looked white, which attracted some bullying, according to Moss. But Cecily always managed to get out of it. "She had the gift of gab," Moss says. "She could talk or reason her way out, long before anything physical came up. She's not going to hit you. When anybody would approach her in a physically violent way, she'd literally ball up and protect herself. She won't turn around and fight you."
Moss describes Cecily as an intelligent girl, opinionated and older than her years. Anything that struck her as unfair bothered her deeply. "She definitely was always the one that, anytime there was any injustice, anytime anyone was being unfair or unreasonable, she'd really have a problem with that," Moss says of her foster daughter. "Cecily was not a perfect kid," she adds with a laugh.
McMillan threw herself into extracurriculars: cheerleading, track, debate, theater, the Young Democrats. She enrolled at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, where she joined the Democratic Socialists of America, a group dedicated to promoting healthcare access, free higher education, and workers' rights. When she moved to New York for grad school, she went to the Occupy Wall Street encampment at the behest of the DSA, to see if it was something they could support.
"I was not going to be associated with anything that was going to be painted as violent by the government or the media," she would later tell the jury.
Occupy was borne out of opposition to many things the DSA was unhappy about: big corporations and their outsize influence on government, the extreme wealth gap between the haves and have-nots, crippling student debt, the stagnant state of American politics and political ideas. In July 2011, inspired by the recent uprisings of the Arab Spring, the magazine Adbusters published a blog post proclaiming, "America needs its own Tahrir." The post advocated for a peaceful occupation of Wall Street itself, and that September, thousands heeded the call.
The movement added fuel to a flame of discontent that had been sputtering for many Americans. Encampments sprang up across the nation. McMillan, like many young progressives, was enchanted. As a full-time student, she didn't sleep in the park, but she did join the Demands Working Group, helping to formulate a list of concrete goals for OWS and advocating passionately for nonviolence even as the rift widened between demonstrators and law enforcement.
At her trial, McMillan would testify that she has only the faintest memory of what happened in the hours after she was slammed to the ground during the St. Patrick's Day skirmish. The rest of the night, she said, remains "a series of visceral blurs."
She did recall an officer guarding her at the hospital telling her she'd be able to go home soon and see her own doctor, only to learn a short while later that she was under arrest. A transfer to Bellevue Hospital Center followed a trip to jail when her Occupy cellmates summoned help after noticing McMillan fading in and out of consciousness. It was at Bellevue, she testified, that she noticed bruises beginning to bloom on her body, including one on her right breast that bore the shape of a handprint. She was released on bail after two days.
On the witness stand, McMillan would tell jurors that her ordeal persisted long after St. Patrick's Day. Owing to the pending criminal charges, she said, her employers dismissed her from her nannying gigs. She struggled to focus at school. Medical records indicate that her doctor diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Viewed beginning to end, a trial is teeth-grindingly boring, a torturous exercise in which every detail is examined from the dullest possible angles. (What streets border Zuccotti? What direction did the police come from?) Everyone must be introduced before they testify.
Some of the defense witnesses at Cecily McMillan's trial were graduate students, and as they dutifully described their thesis topics — philosophy, political theory — Judge Zweibel could be seen gazing at them glumly, his chin in his hand.
McMillan marshaled all of her Southern decorum. Each day she wore businesslike sheath dresses, heels, and, often, a string of pearls. Her hair was curled, her makeup understated, and she could be seen greeting friends with kisses and hugs in the hallways. She thanked them for coming, thanked the press, thanked the guards.
She wept at the defense table the first time the elbowing video was shown in court and kept crying as it was replayed again and again throughout the day. Stolar put a hand on her shoulder. Later, in the mirrorless ladies' room, friends hovered protectively as she fixed her makeup with a small compact. "I just need to get it together," she told them.
And she did. For the rest of the trial, McMillan was grave and composed. Until the day the jury came back with the verdict, she even occasionally looked hopeful.
In all, three police officers, 12 of McMillan's friends and fellow occupiers, and her father took the stand.
One witness, Joseph Sharkey, had been arrested and placed in a holding area at the edge of the plaza, next to McMillan. "[S]he appeared to be in shock and pain and having trouble breathing," he testified, describing her as doubled over and seemingly unable to hold herself upright. He stated that when Officer Bovell tried to escort her onto the bus with the other arrestees, "She was still struggling to stand. She collapsed down and started shaking."
Bovell, Sharkey said, "was being very derogatory to her. I was appealing for medical aid. He was basically mocking and diminishing her, saying she was faking."
Eventually, police took McMillan back out onto the sidewalk. Another protester, Zoltan Gluck, testified that the defendant had "a violent seizure" while demonstrators screamed in horror and police stood idly by. "What struck me was police officers were walking away from Cecily," Gluck stated. "It took over 10 minutes for an ambulance to arrive." Freelance journalists at the scene took photographs that show McMillan lying on the sidewalk or slumped between two officers carrying her by her arms, her skirt hiked up and her hair hanging over her face.
The defense team's evidence included photos of McMillan's injuries, which a friend documented the night after she was released. The image of the bruise on her right breast — which made the rounds on the Internet in the months leading up to the trial — is depicted in shades of black, yellow, and red, the outlines of thumb and fingers clearly visible.
Officer Bovell took the stand on Monday, April 14. A divorced U.S. Navy veteran who lives with his mother, Bovell is black, soft-spoken, with dark-rimmed glasses. He referred to McMillan throughout as "the young lady."
The elbowing, the officer said, "was unprovoked as far as I know. I was shocked." He was equally taken aback, he added, to observe McMillan "act dead" and then "fake" a seizure — a performance he said he'd seen arrestees attempt before.
The defendant was just as adamant. In the video footage, Bovell and McMillan are barely visible in the seconds preceding the latter's alleged assault on the former. She testified that she was grabbed from behind, her knees buckled, and her elbow flew back involuntarily. ("Reacting to being grabbed by a stranger is not a crime," her co-defense counsel, Rebecca Heinegg, had said during the opening arguments.)
"I was a cheerleader. I know how to jump," McMillan testified. "But I'm a completely nonviolent activist, and I've been through extensive training to make sure no part of my body could ever be used to hurt others."
On cross-examination, ADA Erin Choi attacked McMillan's claims that she didn't remember anything after her head hit the ground and noted that medical records indicated McMillan's chief complaint in the hospital was "difficulty breathing" — nothing about having her breast grabbed. When asked to rate her pain on a scale of 1 to 10, she'd told a doctor it was a 1 or a 2, then told another doctor two days later it was a 10. (Stolar observed that his client had also complained of severe chest pain.) An attending physician, Choi pointed out, noted that McMillan had told him she was "doing well at this time, apart from current legal status."
Police arrested 70 people during the St. Patrick's Day demonstration at Zuccotti: for locking arms and refusing to leave the park, for "blocking" the sidewalk, for making video recordings. Former occupier Shawn Schrader won an $82,000 settlement over the NYPD's behavior during three separate arrests, one of which happened that night, when, he alleged in his lawsuit, he was choked and beaten. He also claims an officer told him that night, "Are you Occupy Wall Street people going to come back and demonstrate? Are you punks going to come back and keep showing up? Because every time you guys come back we're going to kick your asses."
The McMillan jury was deluged with information over the course of the trial. Yet they did not hear anything about Schrader's suit. In fact, there was plenty they weren't permitted to learn about the events of March 17, 2012, and about Officer Bovell.
Stolar had asked in a pretrial motion for access to the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau file on Bovell, which would document any disciplinary proceedings he'd faced in his nine years on the force.
In particular, the lawyer sought details of a 2010 incident in which Bovell and his partner allegedly ran down a young man on dirt bike. (The man, Reginald Wakefield, sued the NYPD and the case was settled out of court.) A year earlier, during a 2009 arrest at a bodega, the store's surveillance camera had allegedly captured footage of Bovell kicking a handcuffed man who was lying on the ground.
City attorneys argued that the complaints in Bovell's dossier were irrelevant. Wakefield, they pointed out, had refused to pull over, and Bovell was disciplined only for failing to announce the pursuit over the departmental radio. They said Stolar's description of the bodega arrest was "misleading": The handcuffed man was resisting arrest and had bitten a second officer's finger and kicked an emergency medical service worker in the chest. The bureau determined that the man's claim against Bovell for "injuring a prisoner held in Police Department custody" was unsubstantiated.
Siding with the city, Judge Zweibel denied Stolar's motion. (While cross-examining Bovell during the trial, Stolar questioned the officer about the two incidents. Choi pointed out that the department had cleared Bovell and the matter was quickly dropped.)*
The defense attorney likewise lost his bid to inform jurors about a lawsuit stemming from the St. Patrick's Day demonstration that involved Bovell. In June 2013, a group of protesters sued the city and the NYPD, alleging they were unlawfully arrested and brutalized during various protests. One plaintiff, Austin Guest, claims that on March 17, 2012, he was handcuffed, thrown facedown to the ground, then "escorted" onto the prisoner-transport bus by Bovell and another officer, who intentionally banged his head against each seat.
"They're mere allegations," Zweibel told Stolar testily at one point during the trial.
"Allegations get people locked up every day in this building!" Stolar shot back.
Despite several requests from the defense attorney, Zweibel forbade Stolar from entering the suit into evidence.
The judge did throw one small bone to the defense: Jurors were permitted to hear about Bovell's involvement in a ticket-fixing scandal in which he and dozens of other officers had their parking and speeding tickets dismissed by fellow cops. (In his testimony, Bovell said he hadn't realized his actions were illegal.)
Stolar encountered further difficulty in his attempts to exploit a potentially glaring weakness in the prosecution's case.
Bovell testified that he'd stepped in to restrain McMillan because she was screaming at a female police officer. That woman never testified; prosecutors said that despite obtaining from the NYPD's legal counsel a list of officers present at the demonstration, the D.A.'s office had been unable to locate the woman. (The list itself was strikingly sloppy: Bovell's name wasn't on it, and some of those that were included were illegible.)
"I don't think this officer exists, and I think the event did not take place," Stolar argued in an unsuccessful motion to dismiss the case. "The video evidence is not enough. It's not completely clear. It's distorted."
Retorted Judge Zweibel: "You're raising questions of fact. It's for the jury to decide."
Choi, meanwhile, succeeded in admitting into evidence an unrelated arrest of McMillan: In December 2013, she was charged with obstruction of governmental administration — a misdemeanor whose maximum penalty is one year in jail — after a transit police officer said she'd interfered with his arrest of two fare dodgers in the Union Square subway station.
In the end, the legal process stripped the March 17 altercation between Cecily McMillan and Grantley Bovell of nearly all context. Officer Bovell's dossier, the evolution and devolution of the Zuccotti Park occupation, and the mood surrounding the St. Patrick's Day reunion all faded into the background.
Instead, for the jury, the case boiled down to less than five seconds of one YouTube video, blurry, chaotic footage helpfully spotlighted by a technician from the D.A.'s office.
There, unmistakable in her green outfit, was McMillan.
There was her elbow, hitting Bovell squarely in the face.
*Correction appended 5/13/2014: As originally published, this story may have implied that the jury never heard about allegations of misconduct against Bovell regarding incidents in 2009 and 2010. The above version reflects the corrected text.
McMillan talks with one of her defense attorneys, Martin Stolar, outside the courthouse midway through her trial.
Unable to introduce much evidence that might cast doubt on the prosecution's version of events, Martin Stolar attempted to bolster his client's credibility. Increasingly, the proceedings focused on McMillan's character: Was she the kind of person who would deliberately attack a cop? Stolar called character witnesses to show she wasn't. After the 12th one testified, Zweibel nixed the rest, saying they were "cumulative," i.e., redundant.
In his closing argument, Stolar tried more explicitly to portray McMillan to the jury in the broader context of Occupy, and its relation to how she lived her life.
The jury grew visibly antsy during the nearly three-hour monologue, as he spoke about the roots of Occupy Wall Street, and protest in the U.S. more generally. Eventually, he got around to McMillan's commitment to nonviolence, telling them, "She doesn't abandon her politics for the momentary pleasure or experience of assaulting a police officer." A seasoned activist, he argued, would be extremely unlikely to dress up in bright green and intentionally attack a cop on camera. He asked jurors to consider the injuries McMillan suffered: "She didn't hit herself on her back, or her legs, or her ribs," he said. "How did [the bruise] magically appear on her breast? This is, to the extent that there is one, the smoking gun in this case."
In summing up her case, Erin Choi worked hard to persuade the jury that the case was less about political protest or the NYPD than about a drunken young woman who got violent and stupid.
"This case is not about political views or ideologies," she said. "It's not about rich versus poor. . . . This has nothing to do with Occupy Wall Street."
Choi called the allegation of breast-grabbing "heinous" and "nonsensical," saying that squeezing McMillan's flesh hard enough to leave a mark would have required "razor blades as fingernails and a hot iron for a hand." She said the bruise wasn't noted on medical records until three days after the incident and implied McMillan had inflicted the injuries herself after posting bail.
If McMillan was grabbed, Choi asked, why didn't she report it right away? She didn't mention it to a social worker or a psychiatrist in the hospital.
"This is not someone who would be too shy to say she was sexually assaulted, if she was sexually assaulted," Choi said.
That statement was a stunning turn on Choi's part. Though some of her supporters alleged that McMillan's injuries amounted to sexual assault, the issue never arose during the trial — until the prosecutor's closing summation, when she brought it up in order to minimize the perception of the defendant as a victim.
Choi portrayed McMillan's "Are you filming this?" as a declaration of drunken bravado. "You can figure out her intent by her conduct," said the prosecutor. "[She shouted] 'Are you filming this?' because she wanted to make sure there was an audience who would watch her assaulting a police officer."
But past incidents suggest a more plausible explanation: that she wanted someone to capture an officer's attack on her. Occupiers say they were careful to document their interactions with police on video because, quite often, the evidence got them out of trouble. In one instance, Josh Boss won a $55,000 settlement from the city after an NYPD chief, Thomas Purtell, tackled him during a December 2011 march and then charged him with disorderly conduct. Multiple videos of the event showed Boss had simply been crossing the street, making a video of the march, when Purtell attacked him.
Choi called McMillan's seizure a fake, dubbing it "the performance of a lifetime." And she dismissed the prosecution's failure to locate Bovell's female colleague, as well as the defense's contention that a different video or camera angle might have told a more nuanced tale.
"There's only one relevant angle that you need, and that's what you have," she told the jury. "The defendant is just trying to distract you."
Choi abruptly harkened back to McMillan's December 2013 arrest, alleging that the defendant had faked breathing problems on that occasion as well.
It was a brief remark, made in passing. The criminal complaint from the incident, written by the arresting officer, doesn't mention anything about respiratory failure.
For some jurors, however, it proved unforgettable.
This photo, taken during an Occupy Wall Street rally on September 24, 2011, appears to show a prior breast-grabbing incident involving the NYPD.
At her May 19 sentencing in Zweibel's courtroom, Cecily McMillan faces anywhere from probation to seven years in prison. Longtime activists are baffled by the conviction, which they see as a breakdown in the way the city typically deals with protesters.
"There's an equilibrium to all this: People protest, get arrested, and the charges are dismissed or resolved without lasting consequences," says Bill Dobbs, who was involved with Occupy Wall Street and helped coordinate press for McMillan's case. "Cecily's case is a big departure from that balance. Not only did she get banged around, but the D.A. wanted a serious pound of flesh, a felony. A reasonable D.A. could have solved this without hurling around 'felony' and running to a grand jury."
Adds Lauren Wilfong, press coordinator for Justice for Cecily and a former Occupier, "The judge picked out one woman and one moment, but it's indicative of a much larger problem. And it has some scary implications for activists, even those who weren't arrested. Many people were brutalized and traumatized during what was a peaceful gathering. We see that night as a microcosm of a much bigger climate of fear and repression."
McMillan isn't the only woman to report that police grabbed her breasts that night, says Wilfong. "Many other women have come forward saying, 'I was grabbed in the exact same way,'" she says, "but they happened to not hit the cop." (For that matter, a photograph that went viral on the Internet following a September 24, 2011, Occupy march shows a blonde woman being restrained by two police officers, one of whom is holding her by the right breast.)
McMillan's lawyers say District Attorney Cy Vance's office offered a deal under which she could plead guilty to felony assault and receive probation but no prison time. They contend that she turned it down because she didn't want a felony conviction on her record.
The D.A.'s office declined to make Choi available for comment. But a law-enforcement source familiar with the case says that on two separate occasions — once in summer 2012 and once "in the past several months" — prosecutors offered to allow McMillan to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and serve no jail time. (The source spoke on the condition that the Voice not publish his name, because he was not authorized to discuss plea negotiations.)
Just after the verdict, freed from the constraint of being forbidden to research the case, jurors Googled the woman they'd convicted.
One anonymous juror told the Guardian newspaper that he was shocked upon seeing the potential sentence.
"Most [jurors] wanted her to do probation, maybe some community service," the juror told the paper. "But now what I'm hearing is seven years in jail? That's ludicrous. Even a year in jail is ridiculous."
According to the same juror, the YouTube video proved the deciding factor, along with Choi's suggestion that McMillan had faked breathing problems in December. "That's her M.O.," one juror told the others, the Guardian reported.
Reached not long after the verdict, Martin Stolar described McMillan's temporary home, Rikers, as "a hellhole for anyone who's there." He said he believed an appellate judge would free his client on bail, but his application was rejected on May 8.
Having locked horns with Zweibel almost every day during the trial, Stolar now appears determined not to rock the boat. (Five days after testimony commenced on April 11, incensed at daily press conferences Stolar was holding outside the courthouse, Zweibel had imposed a gag order on both sides. "I'm completely handicapped," a clearly frustrated Stolar told the judge soon after.)
"Maximum sentences are reserved for maximum people," the defense lawyer says carefully. "Cecily is a candidate for the minimum. It seems to me the only reason the judge could impose the maximum would be to punish her for going to trial."
Though it is now out of their hands, the jury has leniency in mind as well: A week after rendering their verdict, nine of the 12 jurors sent Zweibel a letter asking him to consider probation and community service over imprisonment. "We feel that the felony mark on Cecily's record is punishment enough for this case, and that it serves no purpose to Cecily or to society to incarcerate her for any amount of time," the letter reads in part.
"The officer got a black eye," Stolar says. "It hurt for a minute, but he was back doing his job two weeks later. Cecily got the shit beaten out of her. That's documented. She has been diagnosed with PTSD, which is probably going to continue for the rest of her life.
"What's most disappointing," he says, after a moment of defeated silence, "is I believe an innocent woman was wrongly convicted. We'll try to remedy that." He says McMillan will appeal.
In the moments before the verdict came down, Cecily McMillan was texting with her father. She sounded upbeat, James McMillan says, adding that she'd sounded good when they spoke at length on the phone the day before.
"She told me not to worry," he says. "That she would be all right regardless of the outcome."
*Correction appended 5/13/2014: As originally published, this story may have implied that the jury never heard about allegations of misconduct against Bovell regarding incidents in 2009 and 2010. The above version reflects the corrected text.
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