Grand juries say climbing experience counts

October 9, 2008 4:52:02 PM PDT
Three daredevils who are charged with climbing up the facade of The New York Times' new 52-story skyscraper are finding that the law in New York City seems to favor one who has done that kind of thing most often. Two men climbed the newspaper's Midtown Manhattan building on the same day in June, and a third scaled the edifice the next month. A grand jury failed to charge the first with a crime but charged the other two with reckless endangerment.

The first man up the side of the Times' Renzo Piano-designed headquarters was Alain Robert, a 45-year-old Frenchman who told the grand jury he had scaled more than 80 structures.

Robert said his conquests included the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, Chicago's Sears Tower, and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - the world's tallest man-made structures - twice.

The panel charged Robert with disorderly conduct, a violation less serious than a misdemeanor and about the equivalent of a traffic ticket.

But 32-year-old Renaldo Clarke of Brooklyn, and David Malone, 29, of West Hartford, Conn., were less fortunate. The grand jury charged both with misdemeanor reckless endangerment, trespass and disorderly conduct.

All three have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Robert's lawyer Daniel Arshack said Thursday he could not say what the grand jury considered, but he believes Robert's explanation of his precautions before the climb "compelled them to find he had not recklessly endangered anyone."

Arshack said Robert, whose climb was meant to publicize global warming, told the panel he climbed on the side where there would be the fewest observers. He said his client also had helpers on the ground handing out brochures explaining what Robert was doing and which asked them to stand away from the building.

"He is by anyone's account a professional climber who trains others in safe climbing techniques," Arshack said.

The lawyer said the panel probably also noted the fact that Robert obeyed the first police order for him to leave the building.

Clarke's lawyer did not return a call for comment Thursday, but he has said he was disappointed by the grand jury's charges.

Clarke's climb was aimed at raising awareness of malaria. He said after a court appearance that he climbed other buildings and had studied the Times tower before scaling it. But said nothing to indicate he had Robert's experience.

On Thursday, Malone, the last man to attack the Times building's facade, pleaded not guilty in Manhattan's state Supreme Court to the grand jury's charges.

Malone said his July 9 ascent to the 11th floor of the building was meant to publicize his book about Osama bin Laden and his terrorist organization.

The book, "Bin Laden's Plan," argues that Sept. 11 was part of a plot to provoke the U.S. into invading Iraq.

Malone's lawyer, Robert Gottlieb, says his 29-year-old client took "extraordinary" precautions to make sure nobody was hurt. He said Malone even did the stunt later in the day when there would be fewer onlookers.

Gottlieb acknowledges that his client was not an experienced climber, but says he trained for the event and bought the best climbing equipment he could get.

Gottlieb said he will move to dismiss the misdemeanor trespass and reckless endangerment charges because they are too serious for what his client did.

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