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Timothy DeChristopher to finish sentence in Salt Lake City halfway house

SALT LAKE CITY — Unlike the fiery protests and throngs of supporters who surrounded Timothy DeChristopher's trial and sentencing on twin felonies, the homecoming for the environmental activist later this month will unfold quietly.

DeChristopher, who inspired a national following by posing as a bidder out of protest at a December 2008 Bureau of Land Management auction, is returning to Salt Lake City to finish out the last six months of a federal prison term in a halfway house.

Henia Belalia, director of the group DeChristopher co-founded, Peaceful Uprising, said the climate justice organization has no plans to mark his return and is instead respecting the time and space DeChristopher needs to transition back into the community.

"Obviously his friends, his family, his community is excited to have him back here in a halfway home, but we are going to respect whatever time he needs," Belalia said. "We will honor that he is still serving time."

Following his conviction at a March 2011 trial in federal court, DeChristopher was given a two-year prison term. He spent time in Colorado and later was transferred to Northern California, where he is housed at the Herlong Federal Prison until Oct. 24.

Last month DeChristopher lost his appeal before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on convictions for violating provisions of the onshore oil and gas development leasing act and misrepresenting himself as a bidder.

DeChristopher, a University of Utah economics student at the time, had planned to join protesters outside a BLM auction in Salt Lake City, where multiple parcels were on the table for potential oil and gas development. Instead, he went inside, registered as a bidder and was given a placard, No. 70, to raise for bidding on parcels.

The activist ended up winning more than a dozen parcels valued at $1.8 million, though he lacked the money to pay for them. DeChristopher has said too many of the parcels were located in scenic vistas and he bid on them to protect the planet from climate change.

Although his attorneys tried to raise the legal argument that DeChristopher acted out of necessity to protect the environment, that defense was shot down and climate change never became a issue in his legal case.

"He's excited to be getting out of prison," said his attorny, Pat Shea, who said he talked to DeChristopher last week.

Shea said DeChristopher has a job lined up at the First Unitarian Church, which will enable him to have work release. He plans to take the test for admission to graduate school, Shea said, and has talked of possibly enrolling in Harvard Divinity School to become a Unitarian minister.

Shea said it might be a good fit because of DeChristopher's ability to inspire others.

The activist has never publicly wavered from his strong pronouncements that his criminal actions stemmed from his desire and passion to protect the environment. His actions ignited a local movement to agitate for social justice in acts of civil disobedience that stress nonviolent protests.

At DeChristopher's sentencing, with emotions stoked to fervent level, police still stepped over protestors who zip-tied themselves together as a human chain, blocking the steps to the courthouse. It was only after a crowd of supporters blocked the TRAX line that 26 people were arrested.

Belalia said DeChristopher had backed off from his organizing role with the group a few months prior to his sentencing.

"He was leaving it to the next wave of Peace Ups, if you will," she said. "Part of it was to make sure the community felt empowered to carry on no matter what happened to him."

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