Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sentencing delayed in ecoterror arson at U. of Washington

Sentencing delayed in ecoterror arson at U. of Washington
May 30, 9:32 PM EDT
AP Legal Affairs Writer

SEATTLE (AP) -- Sentencing has been indefinitely delayed for a woman convicted in an ecoterror attack at the University of Washington, following new developments about evidence that was presented at her trial.

Briana Waters was convicted this year of two counts of arson for her role as a lookout in the 2001 Earth Liberation Front fire that destroyed the university's Center for Urban Horticulture. Her sentencing was set for Monday at U.S. District Court in Tacoma, with prosecutors requesting 10 years in prison.

But that sentencing was stricken from the court calendar on Friday after the U.S. attorney's office learned new information about a small piece of evidence used at the trial: anarchist articles that Waters supposedly gave to Jennifer Kolar, a witness who had pleaded guilty to arson and related charges in the UW fire and then testified against Waters.

Kolar identified Waters as a participant, and while on the stand she testified that Waters had given her the anarchist articles in a folder - supposed evidence of Waters' mindset around the time of the fire. Kolar testified she never read the articles, and put them in a plastic tub that she stored at her house until she turned them over to her lawyer.

Kolar's lawyer contacted the U.S. attorney's office on Tuesday to say her testimony was misleading: In reality, after Kolar was contacted by the FBI about the arson, she asked a friend to remove the tub from her home. Eventually the tub was returned to Kolar and her lawyer, who turned it over to investigators.

The identity of the friend was redacted in court papers, but defense lawyers identified the person as someone Kolar used as a "secret intermediary" when dealing with others in the radical environmentalist movement. That another person had custody of the documents raised questions about the integrity of the evidence.

Prosecutors called the development insignificant, and said much more substantial evidence proved Waters' role, but they acknowledged defense attorneys should have two or three weeks to investigate.

Waters' lawyers told U.S. District Judge Franklin Burgess they planned to ask for a new trial. They argued in a court filing that the materials in the folder were a "centerpiece of the government's case."

"Had Ms. Kolar told the full story in her testimony ... the defense challenge to Ms. Kolar's general credibility would have been stronger," they wrote. "Not only was it clear that Ms. Kolar was deceptive to the government when talking about the tub, but the fact that she had secretive communications with the third party to hide the tub, the fact that she failed to disclose these communications for years, and the fact that she had the ability to access the tub after her lawyer retrieved it would have been quite useful to show her lack of credibility on other points."

They also asked that in light of the new developments Waters be released pending sentencing; previous requests to that effect have all been rejected.

The fire, which destroyed the plant research center, was one of at least 17 fires set from 1996 to 2001 by an Olympia, Wash., and Eugene, Ore., cell of the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front. In all, more than a dozen people were arrested in connection with the 17-plus arsons around the West, and four remain at large. Waters was the only one of those arrested who went to trial rather than plead guilty.

Kolar was one of two convicts who testified against Waters, and rental car records suggested Waters obtained a vehicle used in the crime.

In March, during Waters' trial, arsonists attacked a luxury home development northeast of Seattle, causing $7 million in damage. Those fires remain under investigation.

The university rebuilt the horticulture center at a cost of $7 million. It was targeted because the ELF activists mistakenly believed researchers there were genetically engineering poplar trees.

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