Aspen jury finds artist Mulcahy guilty of littering outside art museum
In a trial that saw more objections than answered questions, an Aspen jury took 13 minutes Wednesday to find a local artist and perennial provocateur guilty of littering outside the Aspen Art Museum last fall.
Lee Mulcahy was cited in October by Aspen police for littering after he was caught on surveillance video leaving a child’s bicycle, a silver tube resembling a dryer vent, two piles of springs and a large plastic planter in various locations on Spring Street outside the art museum.
Mulcahy later said the items were a sculpture — he also called them an “installation” Wednesday — he donated to the art museum, though he admitted no one at the museum knew about his donation plans.
“Of course, I’m disappointed,” Mulcahy said Wednesday after the trial. “But I think it’s simply the mayor’s political retaliation machine at work.”
On Wednesday, an art museum security guard testified in Aspen Municipal Court that he saw Mulcahy’s distinctive pickup truck — it usually has an American or other flag flying from the back — pull up about 9:40 p.m. on Oct. 8 in one of the handicapped spaces on Spring Street outside the museum. Mark Louderback said he saw a man then unload the items and drive away.
Videos shown in court depicted a man dumping out a box of springs on the sidewalk and leaving the dryer tube/vent in a planter box outside the museum. The child’s bicycle was left leaning against a handicapped parking sign, while the planter was left upside down on the sidewalk, according to the video.
Police later viewed the video and were able to identify Mulcahy by his truck, according to testimony by Aspen police officers Ryan Turner and Marcin Debski.
Mulcahy — who ran against Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron in 2017 and has been fighting the city housing authority’s attempts to evict him from his employee housing unit — chose to represent himself in Wednesday’s proceedings. The city hired an outside attorney — Angela Roff of Glenwood Springs — to prosecute the case after both city attorneys recused themselves.
That dynamic and Mulcahy’s repeated attempts to include his perceived persecution by City Hall and the mayor, as well as his and others’ definition of art, into the trial led to numerous objections by Roff over his questions and exhortations by Judge Brooke Peterson to stick to relevant issues.
“It’s not at issue whether this is art or not,” Peterson said at one point. “It’s your actions that are at issue.”
That, however, did not stop Mulcahy.
“Do you feel the police chief is a storm trooper for the mayor?” he asked Officer Debski. “Do you feel the sculpture is a protest to the fascist tactics of the art museum?”
Skadron was subpoenaed by Mulcahy to testify, but was only allowed by Peterson to answer two questions: whether he discussed prosecuting Mulcahy with the city attorney and city manager and whether he knew who the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei was. The answer to both questions was “no.”
“I don’t believe it,” Mulcahy said about Skadron’s answer about whether he discussed the case with city officials. Peterson instructed the jury to disregard the comment.
“He’s lying,” Mulcahy said of the mayor a few minutes later after attempting to imply that his fight with the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority was the reason for the littering prosecution.
That led Peterson to scold Mulcahy.
“Do not impugn the credibility of any witness like that,” the judge said.
Mulcahy also subpoenaed Heidi Zuckerman, CEO of the Aspen Art Museum, to testify, though she didn’t answer many more questions than Skadron.
“What do you think of irreverence?” Mulcahy asked her. “Do you realize I love this community?”
Roff objected to both questions on the grounds of relevance and Peterson agreed they weren’t relevant.
Mulcahy himself also testified and admitted under cross examination by Roff that he was the one who unloaded the items that October night. Mulcahy also repeatedly apologized for his actions and said he would take back what he did if he could.
The jury received the case at 3 p.m. and retired to an adjacent room for deliberations. Thirteen minutes later, they returned to the courtroom in the basement of City Hall and the foreman announced the guilty verdict.
Peterson then dismissed the jury of three men and three women and fined Mulcahy $150 for littering, plus another $35 in court costs. The judge declined to include jail time or community service in the sentence.
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