Edward R. Myers lost his case in a Loudoun County courtroom yesterday, but he wasn't complaining. Losing was part of the point.
Three times last year, the Sterling father stuck decals featuring the image of a burning American flag on his children's school bus to protest the flag decals put there by school officials shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Yesterday, a jury convicted him of tampering with the bus three times and trespassing three times. The jury recommended fining him $6 -- $1 for each charge.
But Myers, who predicted the verdict while jurors were still deliberating, said his goal all along had been to find a forum for his ideas. The conviction gives him yet another chance to appeal -- yesterday's trial in Circuit Court was an appeal of his earlier conviction in General District Court -- and a not-guilty verdict, he said, would have been a little disappointing.
"It's not about winning or losing; it's about getting this down on paper. We need to get it documented," said Myers, 45, an engineer who represented himself.
After the jury decision was announced, Judge Thomas D. Horne offered Myers a deal: By doing community service, Myers could have the conviction and the fine set aside. Despite his eagerness to pursue his argument, Myers said he would think it over, mindful that his wife, who was co-president of their children's PTO at Sugarland Run Elementary School last year, would prefer that he not have a criminal record.
Myers told the jury yesterday that he put his burning flag stickers on the bus in a middle school parking lot -- twice in the middle of the night -- as a satirical protest of the flags that had been affixed to the buses days after the terrorist attacks. A Virginia law against displaying any advertisements or stickers on school buses has since been changed specifically to allow the display of images of American flags.
Myers, a Mennonite, contended that public schools display the flag excessively, elevating patriotism to the level of religion and offending his own beliefs. On the same grounds, he is pursuing a federal civil suit against having students recite the Pledge of Allegiance. He argued that he was charged only because county officials found the burning flag offensive, proving that they view the flag as a sacred symbol.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Dennis Hanrahan countered that the case was simply one of property rights, arguing that Myers trespassed on school grounds and interfered with the buses.
"Is this the crime of the century? Heck, no. But you don't go on school property at night to interfere with it. You don't go on school property to tamper with it," he told the seven-member jury.
The jury deliberated less than two hours. Afterward, Hanrahan said the jury was sending a message that "even if you have a political point to make, you do it in other ways."
The misdemeanor charges ended up before a jury after Myers was convicted by District Court Judge Julia T. Cannon, who ordered him to pay $817 in fines -- $100 for each charge, plus court costs.
Myers said even if he accepts the offer to clear his record, he'll probably pursue the matter. He could try to incorporate his arguments about the flag into his pledge suit, he said, or file a new federal suit.
"I think I got the most bang for the buck, for my investment," he said. "They had to listen to my point of view."