Monday, February 22, 2010

Stuck 3 months in Iowa jail for refusal to testify

Feds say the Minneapolis woman may have information on terrorist acts.

By ABBY SIMONS, Star Tribune

Last update: February 21, 2010 - 11:43 PM

Having sat three months now in an Iowa jail,
Carrie Feldman of Minneapolis is a hero to scores
of animal-rights defenders around the world.

But to the U.S. government, the 20-year-old
left-wing political activist is a potential
witness who may know something about a daring
break-in more than five years ago at a University of Iowa laboratory.

When she refused to testify before a grand jury,
a judge ordered her jailed Nov. 17 for contempt
of court. She's been in a cell ever since and
could legally be held 11 months if she continues her silence.

Her attorney and supporters say Feldman's plight
illustrates how the U.S. government runs
roughshod over citizens who resist policies they
believe unjust. But officials of that government
have said she may have ties to domestic terrorist
groups and has a duty to tell what she knows.

In a recent interview, Feldman said she was 15 at
the time of the break-in, didn't participate in it and doesn't know who did.

The Nov. 14, 2004, attack on Spence Laboratories
drew widespread attention when members of the
Animal Liberation Front (ALF) released video of
themselves breaking into the lab, rescuing
hundreds of rats and mice, smashing computers and
dumping chemicals. Damages totaled $450,000.

For five years, police made no arrests. Then, in
November 2009, they arrested Feldman and her
former boyfriend, Scott DeMuth, 22, for refusing
to testify to the grand jury despite offers of
immunity. Shortly thereafter, the grand jury
indicted DeMuth in the break-in. He says he's innocent.

Ironically, DeMuth, still uncooperative but now a
defendant, was allowed to post bail, return to
the Twin Cities and await trial. Feldman, though
not charged in the break-in, sits in jail.

"They're really using her as a pawn in this whole
thing," said her attorney, Jordan Kushner of Minneapolis.

Feldman said she refused to testify because she
opposes the grand jury system and how, in her
belief, it undercuts citizens' rights.

"It's a principle thing for me," she said by
telephone from jail, adding that her case shows
"how easy it is for [the federal government] to
abuse the statutes and the secrecy that surrounds
it all. I haven't seen any evidence of why they
want my testimony or [have] any reason to hold me."

Evidence not shown

Clifford Cronk, U.S. Attorney for that region, declined to discuss the case.

His office presented evidence to judges that
attorneys for the pair have not seen. Those
documents purportedly argue that a conspiracy
surrounding the break-in continued after the
crime, justifying the charge against DeMuth even
though the five-year statute of limitations for the crime had expired.

Prosecutors have said that evidence, if revealed,
could affect testimony or compromise the case against unindicted suspects.

DeMuth, a University of Minnesota graduate
student, is charged with animal enterprise
terrorism. He was 17 at the time of the break-in.

Prosecutors say they can link DeMuth to the 2008
Republican National Convention Welcoming
Committee, which planned to disrupt the RNC in
St. Paul. DeMuth was never arrested or charged
with RNC-related activities. They also say he's
been part of anti-government protests.

"Defendant's writings, literature, and conduct
suggest that he is an anarchist and associated
with the ALF movement," Cronk wrote. "Therefore, he is a domestic terrorist."

DeMuth's attorney, Michael Deutsch of Chicago,
has filed motions for dismissal on several
grounds; a trial is scheduled to get underway in March.

Though Feldman and DeMuth's case files are sealed
by court order, both have provided documents to
supporters who post them online.

Defining anarchism

Feldman, who studied two years at St. Catherine
University before taking time off, is, like
DeMuth, active in several Minnesota
organizations, including Coldsnap Legal
Collective and Earth Warriors are OK! (EWOK!),
which supports people arrested during environmental or animal rights protests.

She was volunteering with Coldsnap when she was
arrested during the RNC and said Ramsey County
Sheriff Robert Fletcher told her she was
suspected of conspiracy to commit a riot.
Officials released her without charges. She, like
Deutsch, believes the RNC connections could be linked to the current arrest.

"Feldman likely has knowledge about persons
associated with ALF; she does not deny it," Cronk
argued in writing. "The nature of her arguments
which deflect attention from her and attacks the
government suggest that she does."

Jim Feldman, called to the stand during his
daughter's November contempt hearing, says he
answered "yes" when asked if she was an anarchist.

"In retrospect, I should have asked Cronk to
define his term," he said in an e-mail.
"Subsequent statements from him indicate that he
thinks anarchism equates to being a terrorist
intent on using violent means to take down the government."

The government notes that in 2006 Carrie Feldman
owned white rats similar to those sprung from the
laboratory. Her mother, Julia Philips, said the
pets came from a friend and the humane society.
She said the government's insinuation is "kind of wacky."

Kushner, whose appeals for Feldman's release have
twice been denied, continues to try, with a
latest court ruling expected Monday.

Feldman said she's prepared to do the whole 11 months, if necessary. She adds:

I don't think they should have the right to force
me to testify or bully me by holding me in jail
because I'm involved in political activism."

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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