From a bang to a whimper.
The criminal case against Republican National Convention protester Erik Oseland was resolved this afternoon, when he pleaded guilty to third-degree conspiracy to commit criminal damage to property, a gross misdemeanor.
The other charges against him were dismissed.
The former member of the RNC 8 admitted to talking with several other people before the 2008 event about knocking over newspaper boxes, thus "impeding the flow of convention traffic," said his attorney, Ted Dooley.
"You understand when you tip over these things, it damages the property," Dooley asked Oseland.
"Yes," Oseland said.
Oseland didn't damage any property; he was arrested two days before the convention began.
Ramsey County District Judge Teresa Warner sentenced Oseland to the time agreed upon in the plea agreement: 91 days in the workhouse — with the condition that he not be called to testify against any other RNC defendants.
It was a far cry from two years ago, when investigators raided the homes of two would-be protesters and Sheriff Bob Fletcher displayed at a press conference what they had found: sharp objects to pierce delegates' buses, buckets of alleged urine to throw at police and materials to make Molotov cocktails, among other things, he asserted.
Fletcher said at the time that plans were under way "to both shut down the Republican National Convention and actually harm the officers that are working this convention" and added that what was found "is only a portion of what is out there."
Eventually, eight members of the RNC Welcoming Committee, an anarchist protest group, were charged with second-degree conspiracy to commit riot in furtherance of terrorism — a charge that carried a potential five years in prison.
The county attorney's office later dropped the terrorism charges. But the eight still faced charges of first-degree conspiracy to commit property damage and second-degree conspiracy to commit riot, both felonies.
The 2008 criminal complaint against the group alleged that Oseland put a video on YouTube entitled "Video Map of the St. Paul Points of Interest," which featured prominent buildings and hotels in downtown St. Paul. It alleged that he and another man had discussed making Molotov cocktails to use during the RNC protests. It also accused him of planning to disable delegates' buses.
Oseland, 23, of Nisswa, Minn., declined comment after the hearing.
County Attorney Susan Gaertner said that whenever a case involves multiple defendants and conspiracy charges, "you're going to have varying degrees of culpability.
"You're also going to have varying degrees of evidence to support the charge of conspiracy," Gaertner said. "That certainly was an aspect of resolving the case against Mr. Oseland."
She said she did not know whether any other plea offers were on the table for the remaining defendants.
Dooley said the fact that Oseland would not have to testify against his co-defendants was "pivotal" to his agreeing to the plea.
"He wouldn't do that if you burned his feet," Dooley said.
At least two of the other RNC defendants attended the hearing.
"The seven of us are still committed to taking it all the way to trial," said defendant Garrett Fitzgerald.
Asked if they were disappointed in today's plea, defendant Max Specktor said, "Conspiracy charges create these situations where the state tries to divide us. That's the greater disappointment."
Critics have derided law enforcement and the county attorney's office for prosecuting the protesters, saying the focus on them has been an attempt to "criminalize dissent."
"This is clearly not about criminalizing dissent," Gaertner said. "It's about criminalizing destructive behavior and prosecuting destructive behavior. He pleaded guilty to that, and I think that's appropriate."
Oseland must report to the Ramsey County workhouse on Oct. 20.
Emily Gurnon can be reached at 651-228-5522.