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UU hopeful that conviction will be overturned

Arizona UU convicted after leaving water bottles for migrants crossing desert.
By Donald E. Skinner

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Unitarian Universalist Walt Staton, convicted in 2009 for “littering” by leaving water jugs in the southern Arizona desert for migrants crossing into the United States, is hopeful that his conviction will be overturned following the decision last week by a federal court to reverse a similar conviction.

On Thursday, September 2, a three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco reversed the 2009 conviction of Dan Millis for placing gallon jugs of drinking water on the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in southern Arizona.

Both Millis and Staton were working on behalf of No More Deaths, a ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson aimed at preventing deaths of people crossing the desert. Staton was sentenced to 300 hours of community service.

Staton said Friday that he and Millis were charged under the same statute. “We’ll have to wait and see, but if the decision stands, it’s good news for me and for No More Deaths. It lets us breath a little easier as we do our humanitarian work on the border.”

He acknowledged the decision, while a victory, is not a complete win because the federal government can still appeal the decision to the full Ninth U.S. Circuit Court or the U.S. Supreme Court.

Two days before Millis was arrested he had discovered the body of a 14-year-old girl who had died while crossing the desert. Her story led to the book, The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona-Mexico Borderlands, written by Margaret Regan and published by Beacon Press this year.

A UU World article on Staton’s case is here.

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