To Food and Felonies
[from City Newspaper]
Adam Durand's palms were sweating.
A few minutes before 2 p.m. last Thursday, a Wayne County court clerk
addressed the 26-year-old packaging designer from Rochester as "the
defendant" and asked him to rise.
"When I was asked to stand to hear the verdict, it was an incredible
moment," he recalls. "My heart was racing."
Durand was facing nine different counts, three each of criminal
trespassing, petit larceny, and felony burglary. Each burglary charged
carried the possibility of a jail sentence of up to seven years.
The charges stemmed from his role in sneaking onto Wegmans egg farm in
Wolcott to make a film and taking hens out with him on each of the
three trips --- 11 hens in all. (Durand and his fellow activists said
they took only hens that were sick or dying --- he and his supporters
used the word "rescue"; the district attorney and Wegmans prefer
A year later, in 2005, the fruit of his efforts --- a 27-minute
documentary titled "Wegmans Cruelty" --- was released. (It was
screened at the Little Theatre as part of its Emerging Filmmakers
Series.) But Durand's story and the story of the grocery company had
been working their way toward this conclusion for a long time.
In the summer of 2003 he first saw a video of an egg farm that
employed battery cages: a type of cage where several laying hens
essentially live out their lives in tight quarters, along with several
other birds. Ninety-five percent of the nation's egg supply comes from
hens living in such cages.
"I wasn't really interested in farm-animal issues at that point," he
says, but "I knew this had to be stopped."
The way Americans think about food has been in a state of more or less
constant flux for at least the past several decades. There was a time
when a majority of the people in the US lived on a farm. Those days
are long gone, and few people can tell you exactly where their food
comes from or how it's made. Since the middle of the past century,
food and food production has become increasingly mechanized and
globalized, but also increasingly tinged with political and social
The film is not for the faint of heart. Jason Wadsworth, the
production manager at Wegmans egg farm, appeared uncomfortable with
the images he was shown while on the witness stand during Durand's
trial. And when state police investigator Frank D'Aurizio --- who,
along with Wayne County DA Rick Healy, brought the charges against
Durand and two others --- was confronted on the stand by a video
still, he admitted he considered what was depicted to be neglect.
The video shows the corpses of hens (sometimes decaying), hens with
injuries or with their heads stuck in the cage wires. The most
stomach-turning shots come from below the cages in the manure pits,
where the activists videotaped one hen nearly submerged in manure and
another crawling with flies. (Wegmans says there's no way to confirm
or deny whether most of the footage was shot at its facility.)
Partially lost in the shuffle was who was actually on trial.
"Wegmans is not on trial here," the DA told prospective jurors during
jury selection. He repeated that line again at the beginning of his
closing arguments in the trial. You might not have known it, though,
from the courtroom proceedings, he said. (In a way, that's a
backhanded compliment to his opponents, Len Egert and Amy Trakinski,
Wegmans, recognizing that the trial could become about them, strove
mightily to keep that from happening. But the company was in a
difficult position. In order to convict Durand, they had to admit that
at least some of the video footage came from their facility.
A plea bargain (such as those offered to Cosgrove and a third
activist, Melanie Ippolito) might have spared the company the painful
spotlight of the trial. But Healy (who says he doesn't plea bargain
burglaries without the consent of the victim) says Wegmans wasn't
interested in letting Durand bargain.
As part of their public relations outreach, Wegmans offered media
covering the trial, including City Newspaper, a tour of the Wolcott
"We wanted to get the record straight," said Jeanne Colleluori. "We
have nothing to hide. We felt the visuals shown in the courtroom were
very slanted in a negative way."
Conditions in the facility appeared to be different from those in the
"Wegmans Cruelty" film, but not drastically. The most obvious
difference was that it was much cleaner. (Colleluori says the decision
to offer the tour was made earlier that day, so no special
preparations were made.) Manure piles were a foot or two high, rather
than the four to six-feet-high mounds activists say they observed
during their visit.
Media weren't allowed down the 400-foot-long corridors lined by cages,
for fear of agitating the hens, so it's impossible to compare the
situation with that in much of the activists' video.
After deliberating for just over an hour (and that includes time to
eat their free lunch), the jury found Adam Durand not guilty of all
three counts of felony burglary, as well as all three counts of petit
larceny. They convicted him of criminal trespassing. Though he could
still spend up to 9 months in jail if sentenced consecutively, that
was clearly a victory for Durand.
"When this case was given to a jury, they found that Adam was guilty
of less than Mel and I pled to," says Megan Cosgrove. (She and
Ippolito pled guilty to both the trespassing and petit larceny
"They didn't find it a crime to rescue sick and dying animals." That's
how Len Egert interpreted the verdict. Yet despite statements like
that and the implications they portend, he and Trakinski say they
weren't seeking a test case, and Durand wasn't looking to become a
martyr for the animal-rights cause.
"We weren't pushing for a trial," he says. "We weren't trying to put
Wegmans on trial."
Wegmans released a statement on the verdict that sidestepped that
question altogether, saying, in part: "We are very glad this chapter
in a nearly two-year saga has ended. We're pleased with the conviction
on the trespassing charges, and although we're disappointed in the
other decisions, we do respect the finding of the jury."
But the most telling reaction came from the farm manager Wadsworth, as
he wound up his tour for the media.
"Actually it felt like I was the one on trial," he said.
full story: http://www.rochester-citynews.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A4405