A 78-year-old minister, who has been jailed 104 days for refusing to testify, may spend five more months in custody despite the fact his alleged kidnappers have been indicted without his testimony.
Ailing Rev. Maurce McCrackin was informed Tuesday that the grand jury investigating the incident has been extended even though the two suspects, escaped felons who had already been serving multiple life sentences for other crimes, will face kidnaping charges based on the statements of another witness.
A long-time social activist, McCrackin is refusing to testify out of conscientious opposition to the penal system. He is in contempt of court as long as the grand jury sits. It was expected he would be released today when it was to be dissolved.
Dozens of his supporters, who claim that the life of the grand jury has been extended only to increase his punishment demonstrated in downtown Cincinnati last night and today.
It was the second rally in three days calling for the minister's release. On Saturday nearly 100 supporters gathered to hear peace activist Philip Berrigan of Baltimore, city council member Thomas Brush and civil rights activist Rev. Fred Shuttleworth speak against his incarceration.
McCrackin, a prison reform advocate, is in the 15th day of his second hunger strike since his jailing.
Through his attorney, he told the court in January that he could not partake in any activities that would subject persons to the injustices of the penal sysem.
"The whole ritual is a violation of my conscience," he said, during the 11th week of his confinement in the Hamilton County Jail.
"I will not testify against my friends [the kidnapers] and if my incarceration draws attention to a need for better conditions in jail, it is more than worth it." McCrackin was jailed Jan. 19 for refusing to honor a subpoena to testify before the grand jury investigating the escape of three men from the maximum security Southern Ohio Correctional Facility at Lucasville in November.
In their escape, the convicts reportedly took a Columbus grocery store executive captive, drove to McCrackin's Cincinnati home, tied up the minister and took his car.
Two of the escapees, both serving life sentences, were captured and have been indicted by the Hamilton County grand jury on the Columbus hostage's testimony. They will stand trial May 15. The third inmate was killed.
The matter of moral beliefs versus the law comes down to a conflict between McCrackin and Hamilton County Prosecutor Simon L. Lewis Jr., a tough law-and-order advocate who two years ago won a conviction against Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler, for engaging in organized crime. The Flynt conviction recently was overturned.
Leis, who signed the request for the grand jury's extention, was in the courtroom Tuesday but refused comment as he has done since the case began.
"I don't tell the grand jury what to do. I'm just a convict," he said. Leaving the courtroom shortly thereafter the grand jury announced it was "entitled to the testimony of Rev. McCrackin," and by a 5-to-4 decision had voted to continue the investigation five more months.
Arthur Ney, the first assistant county prosecutor, was not available for comment, but earlier he had said, "nobody wanted this thing to go on as long as long as it has."
McCrackin's attorney, Allen Brown, has characterized the struggle as "two absolutists fighting for their positions."
"My philosophical bent," said Brown, "is that an absolutist who is fighting for a matter of conscience should have precedence over a man fighting for power."
McCrackin, ordained in 1935, was defrocked by the Presbyterian Church in 1963 following a year-long church trial into his views on civil disobedience. Since then, he has run his own parish, the Community Church of Cincinnati, on the city's west side.