After two hours of deliberation, a jury found Richard Alexander Clay, who has no fixed address, not guilty of attempting to burn down the tent Rose Purdy and Michael Sloan called home for several weeks last fall as part of the Occupy Charlottesville protest against the unfair distribution of wealth.
Clay, who was a member of the local version of the nationwide protest, was found not guilty of attempted arson and two counts of attempted malicious wounding that stemmed from an incident at the protest’s Lee Park headquarters in November. Clay was also charged with attempting to maliciously wound Purdy and Sloan, but was cleared of both charges.
Witness testimony indicated that Sloan and Clay had argued earlier that day because Sloan’s pit bull entered Clay’s campsite uninvited.
Purdy testified at Tuesday’s trial, saying she said another protestor came into her tent for a visit the evening of Nov. 5.
“Soon after … we started hearing this guy outside the tent. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but he was definitely trying to get [the other protestor’s] attention,” Purdy testified.
Purdy told Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. that the protestor ignored the man’s attempts at communication. That’s when Purdy said the man threatened to burn the tent down. She added that she heard the distinctive “clunking” of a metal can, followed by the sound of liquid being poured on the side of the tent.
Purdy said she got out of the tent and stood between it and Clay, who she said was the only man standing outside of the tent at the time.
“[He] was cursing and digging for lighters” in his jeans pocket, Purdy testified.
Clay was then arrested by a patrolling police officer, Purdy said.
Defense attorney Mike Hemenway argued that Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania failed to present sufficient evidence to convict Clay of any of the charges.
Moreover, Hemenway said Purdy was not able to identify Clay as the one who poured lighter fluid on the tent because she was not able to see through the tent’s fabric.
“First of all, we don’t have any evidence presented that Mr. Clay even knew Michael Sloan was in that tent,” Hemenway told jurors in his closing statement. “Where’s the evidence that Mr. Clay knew Ms. Purdy was in the tent for that matter?”
Hemenway also reminded jurors of one forensic scientist’s expert testimony that Clay’s fingerprints were not found on the fluid container collected from the scene and admitted to evidence.
“Mr. Clay’s fingerprints are not on [the container.] Not only that, they were excluded,” he told jurors.
Ultimately, the jury, made up of eight women and four men, sided with the defense, acquitting Clay of all charges.