Judge gives Philly Jesus mixed verdict at trial in Apple store incident

Michael Grant, also known as Philly Jesus, outside the Criminal Justice Center before his trial Wednesday on charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct.

Judgment Day came early for Philly Jesus, and the results were mixed: He was found guilty on Wednesday in Philadelphia Municipal Court of defiant trespass, but not guilty of disorderly conduct.

The charges against Michael Grant, 29, a recovering heroin addict who walks the streets of Philadelphia dressed as Jesus, stemmed from his refusal to leave the Apple store at 1607 Walnut St. in Center City in May.

Grant owns an iPhone and jokes that he's on the "family plan" with God and the Holy Ghost. He has a prolific Twitter presence and often visits the electronics mecca to charge his phone and update his accounts.

At the crux of the case against Grant was a cross - a 7-to-8-foot wooden one that Grant sometimes carries around the city.

Apple store manager Shawn Dobbs testified Wednesday that Grant's cross was blocking an aisle of the store May 2 and that Grant became "very aggressive" when asked to leave.

"He told me the only way he'd leave was to be arrested," Dobbs testified. "He told me he needed to be arrested."

As Grant began to yell about his religious freedoms, Dobbs said, 20 to 30 customers and employees took photos and videos.

Officer Michael Levin, who arrested Grant after twice warning him to vacate the premises, testified that Grant was yelling as he was taken away in handcuffs.

"He's screaming, 'Freedom of speech! I know my rights!' " Levin recalled.

Grant's attorney, Brian Zeiger, argued that Grant believed he was being asked to leave because of the expression of his religious beliefs and thus thought his protestations of his persecution would be covered under the First Amendment.

Dobbs, who wore a black-and-silver Apple watch to court, said that although the store has "hundreds" of video cameras, none managed to capture the alleged incident.

Zeiger said he found that hard to believe. He also questioned why the cross being used to crucify Grant wasn't brought into court as evidence.

"We know the cross existed," Assistant District Attorney Noel Walton said. "It doesn't have to be here in all its 8-foot glory."

So the judge had to take it as gospel.

Since his arrest in May, Grant has returned to the store many times without incident, Dobbs said.

At the advice of his attorney, Grant did not testify Wednesday. During the trial Zeiger described his client as "very peaceful" and "a public figure in our local community, whether we like it or not."

After rendering his verdict, Municipal Court Judge Craig M. Washington sentenced Grant to three months' probation. Grant and his attorney plan to appeal their case to a jury.

"I think the citizens of Philadelphia will see that he's not guilty," Zeiger said.

Grant, who has long, brown hair and dressed for court in his trademark long, white robe, maintained his innocence in an interview afterward and said he has only love for the judge and the justice system.

"I forgive them for trespassing against me," he said.

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