Tim DeChristopher has to wait just a little longer to learn his fate. Yesterday, the Justice Department announced that DeChristopher, the Salt Lake City-based activist who disrupted a federal oil and gas auction in December 2008 by bidding $1.8 million on parcels of land in eastern Utah, would be sentenced July 26. His sentencing was originally scheduled for this Thursday. It’s not the first time DeChristopher, 29, has seen his case put on hold: his trial was repeatedly delayed over a period of two years. Federal District Judge Dee Benson didn’t offer a reason for this latest holdup, but those in the activist community have suspicions about the motive. Peaceful Uprising, an activist group DeChristopher co-founded, has organized thee days of actions in Salt Lake City surrounding the original sentencing date, June 23, as well as some 40 concurrent nationwide protests. “We’re speculating that when we started organizing on a national scale, that’s what caused the delay,” says Henia Belalia, 27, a national organizer for Peaceful Uprising. Legal experts aren’t so sure. “Federal district court judges in Utah commonly reschedule hearings given their busy schedules,” Kent Hart, executive director of the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, wrote in an e-mail. “I would be more concerned if the prosecutors had raised the issue of protesters or if the defense attorneys objected to the changed schedule.”
Peaceful Uprising’s planned actions for this week will go forward, with DeChristopher speaking to supporters on Thursday at 2:30—the original scheduled time of his sentencing—in Exchange Place Plaza, across from the Frank E. Moss Courthouse in Salt Lake City. Then DeChristopher gets one more month’s reprieve, and Peaceful Uprising has a bit more time to plan another action on July 26. The prosecution is reportedly seeking a federal prison sentence of 4.5 years.