Chris and Trudy Sherburn's rap sheet is impressive:
Married 23 years, six children ages 7-21.
Children home-schooled by Mrs. Sherburn (who holds an M.A. in early childhood education). "Field trips" to help in convalescent homes and assist in missions to Central America.
Totally clean record.
Focus of life: missionary work in South America and coordinating translation of Bible study materials into Spanish.
Newest interest: sending medicine, tools, and Bibles to refugees in southern Sudan. These refugees are quite capable (literacy rate of 70%) but are under attack by the government based in northern Sudan, which seeks to force their conversion to Islam. (Children captured by the north are commonly sold into slavery.)
No question about it, in a time when people are supposed to focus on self-- self empowerment, self realization, self healing-- these are suspicious people. They probably weren't distraught over the final episode of Seinfeld. Children being held in chains and sold for $100 moves them far more than does the lot of the grey wolf or condor. Worst of all, they actually feel it's their duty to do something about it. Suspicious indeed.
Which may explain why they were charged by the State of California with 24 felonies, carrying stiff mandatory sentences, why their children were taken from them, and why Mrs. Sherburn was held for five months on a million dollars' bond.
For the last fifteen years, the Sherburns have earned income by purchasing government scrap, largely military surplus, and selling it at gun shows. Their inventory included MREs, camping supplies, LAW rocket tubes, fired ammunition, radio parts, and flares. It was the type of thing you see at any gun show, all harmless, mostly purchased from the government itself.
On April 10, 1998, a building code inspector was nosing about the Sherburn's yard, looking for nonoperational vehicles or other such nuisances. He noticed storage tubes for LAW rockets in the Sherburn's back yard and, claiming these simply must contain warheads, summoned the Victor County Sheriff Department. Within hours a team was tearing the Sherburn's house apart in a search for "explosives" and "destructive devices."
What were these? California law includes within the definition of "explosives" any substance capable of "detonation or rapid combustion" or "rapid release of gas or heat." (Technically, possession of a match is thus a felony in that state). The Sherburns possessed military surplus day and night flares-- flares that can be held in the hand to signal rescue parties. Possession of these was charged as a felony possession of explosives.
They possessed smokeless powder and black powder. Possession of these was charged as materials for destructive devices. Some surplus .50 incendiary rounds were likewise charged as destructive devices. The law also includes any rocket "or launcher therefore." The Sherburns were thus charged with possessing used LAW rocket tubes.
When Trudy Sherburn returned home she was arrested, her children turned over to Child Protective Services, and she was held on a million dollars' bail. (Five months later she was released, no bail required, after a judge heard testimony about what the "destructive devices" really were, and fifty people wrote letters recommending her release.)
Chris was then in Florida, helping to outfit a boat, loaded with medicine, farming tools, and clothing, for a mission to southern Sudan. The prosecution issued an order to arrest and extradite him, claiming he was a fugitive from justice and-- this is a direct quote-- "was leaving the country on a 70' sail boat with a boatload of explosives."
He was arrested-- the Florida court treated him as if he were a suspected terrorist-- and shipped back to California. Chris is still being held on a million dollars' bond, and the three youngest Sherburns children are still in custody of CPS, which allows Mrs. Sherburn two hours of supervised visitation now and then.
The Sherburns now stand charged in state court with 24 felony charges-- felonies which bear mandatory sentences. If convicted, they face years in prison, for offenses which amount to no more than owning used missile tubes, fired ammunition, and rescue flares.
If these are criminal offenses, then every gun show in California is in violation, and thousands of
gun and militaria collectors are felons. Indeed, the mere fact that you own a military storage tube
gives probable cause to search your house.