It took a 12-person jury in Wetumpka, Alabama, less than 45 minutes to decide that Wayland Gray, a Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizen, was wrongly convicted of disorderly conduct and misdemeanor criminal trespassing when he tried to pray for his ancestors at the Nation’s sacred Hickory Ground ceremonial site two years ago.
“I wasn’t worried,” Gray told ICTMN Wednesday night after the daylong trial. “Everyone has the right to go to a sacred site and pray for their ancestors.”
Gray and three other men were arrested and charged by members of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians police force when they tried to access Hickory Ground in February 2012. The Interior Department currently holds Hickory Ground in trust for the Band. Poarch dug up almost 60 sets of Muscogee ancestors during excavation for its $246 million casino expansion, which resulted in the Nation filing a pending lawsuit against the Band alleging violations of various federal laws protecting graves and freedom of religion.
Gray was convicted of the charges in August 2013, but declined various plea bargain offers to plead guilty in exchange for no jail time. Instead, he exercised his right under Alabama state law to appeal. The trial was held as a result of Gray’s appeal.
The jury left the courtroom for around 45 minutes to deliberate, Gray said. “It takes them around 20 minutes to get situated and then they all came back and said, ‘We have a verdict: Innocent.’ It was unanimous,” he said.
A Poarch Band of Creek Indians spokeswoman issued a statement in the wake of Wednesday’s acquittal, Alabama News reported.
“Mr. Gray was previously found guilty by a District judge in this case, and we continue to believe that was the correct verdict,” the statement says.
Full story to follow.