A Scientology protester who fled to Canada to avoid a misdemeanor conviction was sentenced to a year in jail Tuesday. Keith Henson and his wife, Arel Lucas, picket and pass out fliers outside Riverside County Superior Court in Hemet in April. Henson, who fled to Canada, was sentenced to a year in jail should he return to the United States.
Keith Henson, who has been in Canada since May, was convicted of interfering with religion for protesting at the Church of Scientology's Golden Era Productions in Gilman Hot Springs. Henson's protesting intimidated Golden Era employees, who said they were afraid of him,and kept them from entering their church.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Robert Wallerstein gave Henson, a 59-year-old Palo Alto resident, the option of serving 180 days in jail and three years of probation instead of the one-year sentence.
Henson, who is awaiting a hearing in Canada on his status as a political refugee, communicated with the judge via e-mail. He said he would not accept the sentence because he thinks it is too harsh for his actions.
"I think it will eventually be overturned," Henson said of the conviction. "The charges against me are absurd."
Henson was also tried in April on misdemeanor charges of terrorism and attempted terrorism, but the jury deadlocked on those charges.
Golden Era officials are happy with the sentence. They said they feel safer knowing that Henson could go to jail if he came back to the United States.
"Henson . . . needs to pay for his religious hate crime," said Muriel Dufresne, a spokeswoman for Golden Era. "He is just thumbing up his nose at the justice authorities in Hemet."
In letters to Henson's probation officer, several Golden Era employees, who are also Scientologists, expressed similar opinions.
Henson said he was just exercising free speech by protesting. He believes his human rights have been violated by what he calls a harsh sentence, he said.
While he waits for his political-refugee application to wend its way through the Canadian immigration courts, Henson is staying with a fellow Scientology protester near Toronto. He said he has no plans to leave Canada in the near future, but he does miss his family and friends.