Hamilton County Judge Robert Winkler rejected arguments from defense attorneys that the activists were simply exercising their free speech rights when they slipped past P&G's security on March 4 and used a zip line to unfurl giant banners from the consumer products company's two towers as a helicopter filmed them.
They were protesting P&G's use of palm oil, saying the oil is tied to tropical forest destruction in Indonesia. One of them was dressed as a tiger to represent endangered species that live in the rainforest.
The activists, who all live out-of-state, were arrested on charges of burglary and vandalism and spent one night in jail before being released the next day on $50,000 bond each. They have pleaded not guilty. Attorneys for the activists argued in court Wednesday that the burglary charges against them should be dismissed, saying that they were engaging in constitutionally protected political speech.
Prosecutors argued that regardless of their political message, the activists committed crimes and caused damage in the way they conveyed their message. Authorities have said property damage, including broken window locks, totaled some $17,000. At the time of a grand jury indictment, Prosecutor Joe Deters said 24 police officers and two companies of firefighters were diverted to the protest.
"The First Amendment does not operate to permit defendants to damage or tamper with private property in order to convey their message," according to a recent court filing by the prosecution.