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East Germany Gives the Gate to Persistent U.S. 'Wall Walker'

February 20, 1987|United Press International

EAST BERLIN — An East German court Thursday convicted a Seattle man known as the "wall walker" for his one-man campaign against the Berlin Wall, gave him a suspended 18-month sentence and ordered him deported.

John Runnings, a retired carpenter arrested last year after he scaled the 10-foot high masonry wall, began pounding it with a sledge hammer and then tumbled into Communist East Berlin, was convicted of border violation charges, sentenced and placed on probation for three years.

Runnings, 69, also was told that he was to be deported from East Germany, Cynthia Miller, spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in East Berlin said. The probation means he will have to serve his sentence if he is caught demonstrating against the wall again.

Dieter Starkulla, an East Berlin lawyer assigned to Runnings by the court, told reporters that his client is "very happy" with his sentence.

Stiff Sentence Possible

Runnings could have been sentenced to as much as eight years under the East German penal code for "illegal border crossing." The prosecution had asked for an 18-month prison sentence.

"The trial was fair," James Huffman, U.S. consul in East Berlin, said, "and Runnings was allowed to say what he had to say."

The court began trying Runnings on Monday on border violation charges and adjourned after meeting for one hour Wednesday.

Before announcement of the verdict, Runnings' wife, Louise, said in Seattle that she hoped that her husband would be deported to the West "to get him away from the wall."

Arrested Several Times

Runnings for years has been traveling to Berlin to campaign against the wall. He was arrested several times before his latest protest Nov. 18 but each time was released without trial after a few days' detention.

On Nov. 18, Runnings, using a ladder, climbed to the top of the wall from the American sector of the divided city and used a sledge hammer to chip at its top before falling off the structure into Communist territory. East German border guards took him into custody.

Huffman was allowed to attend the trial, but Western reporters were barred. The wall was built by East Germany in 1961 to halt the mass flight of refugees to West Berlin.

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