Benjamin Gilmore is my friend

On December 12, 2013 Benjamin David Gilmore was sentenced to eight years in prison following a jury conviction of setting the Mason Flats fire in Fort Collins, Colorado. He spent a few days in a local prison, then got moved to Denver before Christmas supposedly because there was no room, and then onto a facility near the Colorado-Kansas border. So far his family has not been able to see him, but he's only been in the system for a few weeks so far.

I and many people who know him are convinced beyond doubt that Benjamin is innocent of all the crimes he was accused of committing. There was a primary suspect who openly admitted to having set the fire. There was evidence that was not properly analyzed, and there was evidence that was withheld from the jury. When Benjamin's first trial resulted in a hung jury and no conviction, he was actually tried again, something I didn't think was legal–I remember it being called “double jeopardy” during a law class I took in high school.

The following video, Burning the Beekeeper,1) is a documentary some supporters put together between the time of his conviction and sentencing. It tells the story as we know it so far, and points out the glaring weaknesses in the prosecution's case against him, and asks why. Why was Benjamin framed? Why was the primary suspect not only let go, but also immediately put on a bus out of town? What else is going on in Fort Collins where wrongfully convicting a reputable husband, father and successful business owner makes any kind of sense?

The same supporters are working on a second video which will delve deeper into the evidence that was willfully held back from the jury during his trial. Benjamin is appealing the case.

I saw Benjamin's wife Rebekah and their young son a few days ago while stopping by their store. Rebekah is holding out well. She told me she talks to Benjamin on the phone twice a day. “We start and end the day together,” she said. She also writes him a letter every day, so what she most needs is stamps. When Benjamin's mail finally caught up with him, he had something like 29 letters from his wife. Overall, the facility is a pretty good one–for what it is–she reports, and she's almost done with the background check process so she can go visit him soon. Rebekah has put together a little photo album of pictures of Benjamin and Xavier so that whenever Xavier wants to see Daddy he can look at the album. She tells me Xavier has been especially needy since his father got taken away. Rebekah figures there's a reason that all this is happening and hopes God's purpose is fulfilled. A friend who's also at the store speculates a bit about what that purpose might be, but at this point no one really knows.

An innocent man has been torn away from his wife and son and put away for eight years. An appeal has been filed but getting the appeal to court is a two to four year process. “He'll probably already be out on parole before the appeal goes through,” Rebekah said sadly. “But we will clear his name.”

I have several reasons for wanting people to know about Benjamin and what he and his family are going through.

First, he is my friend. I've known him and Rebekah for years and this is the last thing I would have expected them to be going through. Although there isn't much I can do right now except buy Rebekah stamps from time to time, I want to do what I can for my friends. I can't get Ben out of jail, but I can support them and let others know this is happening.

Second, there is clearly something very wrong with the justice system in Fort Collins, Colorado, and most likely this isn't limited to one city or state. Before Benjamin went to trial and then jail, he told me about the incredible pressure put on people accused of crimes to plea bargain–basically confess to lesser crimes in return for not having to go through the expense of a trial and risk losing it all. Many people take these plea bargains and do community service or serve very short prison sentences whether or not they are actually guilty of these crimes (or the original crimes they were accused of). Benjamin refused to plea bargain because he was innocent. Why should he say he committed even a small crime that he didn't do just to get out of a trial? What ever happened to a fair and speedy trial anyway?

The video covers evidence that wasn't properly acquired in great depth, and it seems as if the jury was deliberately misled. This is not a fair trial. We know of a man who openly admitted to setting the fire, but he was only questioned by the police, and then not only released but shipped off to another state where it is reported he later died in a tragic train accident. Hmm.

The bottom line is that if Benjamin Gilmore can be falsely accused, convicted and sent off to prison, than anyone can.

Third, as a Christian I often consider the moral direction our nation is taking and ponder the possibility of our government persecuting Christians. I've touched on this in other blog posts so won't go into it here other than to say that I do believe it's a possibility which could happen in my lifetime. Some time in the near future, I and others I love could be hassled by powerful people because of our faith in Jesus Christ.

However, I believe it's not going to be this epic showdown where some government person tells the Christian: “Deny your faith or else!” and the Christian says “No!” and then faces imprisonment, torture and death as in the days of the Early Church. I believe it's going to be in indirect ways, such as being falsely accused of crimes and then railroaded by the justice system, similar to what happened to Benjamin.

You will suddenly learn about your parish priest's secret life as a bank robber, or your evangelical pastor's penchant for breaking into preschools and molesting children, or your Sunday school teacher's tendency to randomly shoot people in shopping malls or movie theaters, or your pew neighbor's tendency to set fire to buildings. And we've already been conditioned by the many shocked neighbors being paraded on TV saying “I never knew this about him, he was such a nice guy!” whenever there is a tragic crime, so you'll find yourself doubting that you even knew this person who mentored you spiritually at all. And in a lot of cases, maybe you barely knew them but nothing about them gave you any reason to suspect them. But now there is a jury conviction and a jail sentence and most people won't look beyond that. I'm not saying any of this is about Benjamin's faith, but I am saying that if this can be done successfully to Benjamin, it can be done to anyone, no matter how sterling their reputation in the community is. Benjamin and his wife own one of the most successful small retailers in Fort Collins. Benjamin has no prior criminal record.

Fourth, I wonder what is the bigger story behind this? What else is going on in Fort Collins? Which interests are served by my friend being put away in prison? In other words, what is the conspiracy? I don't have specific answers but have no doubt they exist. One could begin to delve into them by entering the name “Stacy Lynne” into the Google search box. The city of Fort Collins is into some pretty evil stuff. Somehow Benjamin got in the way.

Even more interesting than the evil conspiracy afoot will be seeing how God's larger purpose unfolds. I firmly believe that what the enemy intended for evil God will use for good as He always does. And Benjamin is as cooperative about his role in it as can be, even though it means great suffering for him and his family. It will be exciting to see what God does.

In the mean time Benjamin, Rebekah, and Xavier need lots of prayers and support. They have a difficult road ahead of them.

Society | People

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