Family, friends say to 'Free Ward Bird'
MEREDITH – Nearly 100 friends and family members gathered at Picnic Rock Farm on Route 3 Thursday to protest the three-year prison sentence now being served by the farm's manager, Ward Bird, on a criminal threatening conviction.
"Free Ward Bird'' signs were held up to passing motorists and yellow ribbons were passed out as a petition circulated among those who had gathered to show their support for Bird, a father of four and Boy Scout leader in his hometown of Moultonborough. As darkness settled in, dozens of signs were held up, some of them by Boy Scouts.
Bird reported to the New Hampshire State Prison this week after the State Supreme Court last month upheld his April 2009 conviction in Carroll County Superior Court for threatening a woman with a .45-caliber handgun after she arrived at his property trying to locate land she was looking to buy on which she planned to house animals.
Bird had been sentenced to prison for no less than three and no more than six years, with the court citing RSA 651:2, II-g, which imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of three years "if a person is convicted of a felony, an element of which is the possession . . . of a deadly weapon, and the deadly weapon is a firearm."
He had a gun but he didn't point it at her, even though that's what she said at the trial,'' said Ward Bird's wife, Ginny Bird. "He had been trying to get her to leave for a long time and held up the gun to check the safety as he was coming into the house to call police and tell them there was a trespasser on our property.
"He has a right to defend his property, his children and his family," she added. "But his constitutional rights aren't being upheld in this case. The woman should have been arrested for criminal trespass."
The incident took place on March 27, 2006, when Christine Harris arrived on Bird's remote Moultonborough property, which was well-marked with no trespassing signs, after making a wrong turn.
Harris testified at the trial that as she parked her Ford Ranger, Bird came out of the house and yelled a profanity at her, telling her to leave the property, and came down the porch waving a gun. She said she asked him some questions and that Bird had come down from the porch, again waving the gun at her, as she backed out of the driveway.
During the trial, Bird's attorney, Mark Sisti, attempted to open a line of questioning about Harris and her animals in an attempt to introduce into evidence Harris's conviction on animal cruelty charges in Salem in January of 2008.
She had been found guilty in Salem District Court of keeping 50 dogs and two birds in squalid conditions and was sentenced to six months in prison with five months suspended on condition of good behavior. She was also banned from owning any dogs for two years.
She appealed the conviction and has since left the state and is living in South Carolina, where she now faces 44 counts of animal cruelty.
"I don't know why the police and prosecutors and the jury believed her," said Pete Viano, a relative of Bird's, who said that he thinks the charges against him were brought by "an overzealous police department.''
Chris Shipp, a Laconia firefighter who lives in Moultonborough, said that when he heard about the demonstration, he took time off from work to attend.
"Ward Bird is a pillar of the community. The purpose of prison is reform, but there's nothing you can do to make him a better person. He's as good as they come," said Shipp.
John Tolman, who runs a construction company in Moultonborough and says he has known Bird for 20 years, says the sentence is totally unjustified.
"He, like many of us, was under the false impression that he had a right to defend his property from trespassers and that he was within his rights to bear arms to effect their removal. And he assumed that the police and County Attorney's office would actually prosecute the trespasser, not the property owner defending his rights. The idea of him sitting in prison for the next three years is a preventable miscarriage of justice,'' said Tolman.