Monday, January 28, 2008

Suspected “eco-terrorist” on trial

By Kim Lee The Daily Washington
January 28, 2008

Photo by Daniel Kim.

Merrill Hall, the Center for Urban Horticulture, was set on fire in May
2001. The building was rebuilt Jan. 19, 2005.

Nearly seven years after an arson caused about $1.5 million in damages
to UW’s Center for Urban Horticulture, Briana Waters, 32, will be facing
trial on Feb. 11 for her alleged participation in the attack.

Federal prosecutors said Waters was a part of the five-person Earth
Liberation Front (ELF) team that set fire to professor Toby Bradshaw’s
office on May 21, 2001, according to a Jan. 21 article from The Seattle
Times (“Arson suspect facing trial”).

“Ms. Waters naturally has very little recollection of exactly what she
was doing in the early morning hours of May 21, 2001,” said her
attorneys Robert Bloom and Neil Fox, in a statement to the Times. “She
is, however, certain that one thing she did not do is participate in the
arson at the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture.”

Waters’ trial will be the first of the 18 men and women accused of being
involved in the series of attacks that caused tens of millions of
dollars in damages to institutions they believe to be threats to the
environment and animals.

Bradshaw’s research on genetically modifying poplar trees was seen as an
“ecological nightmare” for the biodiversity of native forests, according
to an ELF news release.

The arson attack set back research at the center a number of years, said
Norm Arkans, executive director of media relations for the UW.

“It was a horrible event that destroyed a number of people’s work,” he
said. “It was misdirected because the people who were involved [at the
center] were eco-friendly.”

Rebuilding the facility cost $7 million, which did not offset the damage
done to research or the destruction of several endangered plants.

“It was from our perspective a type of violence that is not effective,”
Arkans said. “It was a serious act of eco-terrorism and it was not the
best way to make a point.”

The U.S. Justice Department labeled the ELF as the top domestic terror
group in 2001.

If Waters is convicted on charges of conspiracy, arson and the use of a
destructive device in a crime of violence, she will face a prison
sentence of 35 years.

However, if defense attorneys are able to succeed in challenging the
prosecutors’ use of the term firebomb to describe the timed devices and
buckets of fuel that caused the fire, then Waters could face only five
years in prison.

The use of a destructive device in a crime of violence carries a minimum
sentence of 30 years, while arson charges have a mandatory sentence of
five years.

Since 1996, ELF and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) have started
arsons at a U.S. Forest Service office, a ski lodge in Vail, Colo., a
slaughterhouse in Oregon, a Eugene car dealership and a federal
agriculture research center in Olympia.

Water’s refusal to accept a plea deal has put her in the position of
potentially receiving the harshest punishment of anyone sentenced thus
far. Twelve others have reached plea agreements, landing sentences
ranging from probation to 13 years.

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