Pipeline protester found guilty in Fort Benton - ABC FOX Montana Local News, Weather, Sports KTMF

UPDATE: 5:28 PM

Fort Benton: Jurors have found Leonard Higgins guilty of criminal mischief and trespassing.  

 When the verdict came down the air in this courtroom was vibrating with anticipation

Moments after the judgment was read...  the crowd showed their support of Higgins by forming an honor line 

First thing Wednesday morning Higgins took the stand in his own defense. He explained why he shut off the valve on the spectra energy property in October of last year
he says his actions were a symbolic act against climate change and if he could do it again he would. 

"my only regret is that i didn't start working on this problem sooner as i spoke in my testimony when i neared retirement i looked back on how i spent my time i worked long hours and you know was interested on having a nice house, nice cars and i wish i would have spent more time with my family and i wish i would have known about this problem sooner and joined in with others," said Higgins.  

He said in the months leading up to the incident a huge amount of planning was done to make sure that when he did turn the valve off, no one would get hurt. That included informing Spectra Energy of the plan so they had time to turn off the flow of oil in that pipeline, which they did. 

"We worked really hard to have the action harm neither people nor property," said Higgins.

The prosecution said Higgins is not in custody at this time.   

His sentencing will be held on January second at 2 pm  in the Chouteau County Courthouse. 


UPDATE: 1:02 PM

Fort Benton: Jurors have found Leonard Higgins guilty of criminal mischief and trespassing.  

Higgins faces up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine on the criminal mischief charge, a felony. Trespassing is a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to six months in county jail and a $500 fine.

Sentencing is scheduled for January 2018.


65-year-old Leonard Higgins turned off an emergency valve at a Spectra Energy site last October just south of Big Sandy.

Not only did the self-proclaimed activist admit to turning the valve off. He videotaped himself doing it.

Higgins was part of a group of people spread out over five states who warned the energy company of their plans to turn off emergency valves. 

Spectra, now Enbridge Inc. took precautionary measures to ensure no damage would be done by stopping the flow of oil.

Tuesday he made his first appearance at the Chouteau County Courthouse in Fort Benton.  Higgins is admitting guilt to trespassing but says he's not guilty of causing $1500 worth of damages. 

"What I can say is that it is our position that he didn't commit a felony,  he committed a misdemeanor and a misdemeanor is what's called a lesser included offense to that felony.  So Mr. Higgins isn't denying that he damaged property, yeah he cut three chains but those three chains are less than $1,500 worth of damage," said defense attorney Herman Watson IV.

Michael Barnes, spokesperson for Enbridge sent KFBB a statement:

"The actions taken last year to unlawfully trespass on our facility and tamper with equipment were dangerous and reckless.  The individuals involved in this activity claim to be protecting the environment, but their actions alone are inviting an environmental incident and put the safety of all people, including themselves, potentially first responders, the community and our employees, at risk.  We take this very seriously and we are supporting the prosecution of all those involved."

The trial is expected to continue Wednesday morning and wrap up by the end if the day. If that is not possible they will pick they will pick back up next Wednesday.