Woman expected to plead guilty in 2001 UW arson
Briana Waters, who was awaiting a retrial for her alleged role in the 2001 Earth Liberation Front arson attack on the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture, is expected to plead guilty to federal charges next week.
By Mike Carter
Seattle Times staff reporter
A California woman who is awaiting a retrial for her alleged role in the 2001 Earth Liberation Front arson attack on the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture is expected to plead guilty to federal charges next week.
Briana Water's change-of-plea hearing is scheduled for Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton. It comes as the Department of Justice prepares for the return of her one-time boyfriend and the attack's alleged ringleader, Justin Solondz, who faces extradition from China, where he's spent the last three years in prison on drug charges.
Waters, a 34-year-old violin teacher from San Francisco, was convicted in 2008 and sentenced to six years in prison in 2008 for her role in the arson at the center, which caused an estimated $6 million in damage. Waters allegedly helped secure the car used by the group and was a lookout the night the fire was set.
She was acquitted of or the jury couldn't decide on several other charges, including a count of manufacturing a destructive device, which carried a mandatory 30-year prison sentence.
However, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the conviction last year, saying her trial before U.S. District Judge Frank Burgess, now deceased, was riddled with judicial errors. The appeals-court judges said that, while the evidence against Waters may have been sufficient for a conviction, "our review of the record does not leave us convinced that her conviction was fairly obtained."
The government has since moved toward a retrial and Waters has been home after she was released pending her retrial.
Details of the plea arrangement were not immediately available.
Waters' attorney, Neil Fox, acknowledged a plea agreement was pending, but said he could not discuss the specifics. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle did not immediately return telephone messages for comment.
Waters was reportedly part of a five-member Earth Liberation Front (ELF) cell that conspired to burn the center down. Prosecutors say it was part of an ELF-sponsored spree of arson attacks throughout the West from 1996 to 2001.
Damage to targets that included a slaughterhouse, timber-company headquarters and a ski lodge at Vail, Colo., was estimated in the tens of millions of dollars.
Two other women, Lacey Phillabaum and Jennifer Kolar, pleaded guilty to the UW arson and were sentenced to three and five years, respectively. Both testified against Waters.
Also charged in the UW arson were William C. Rodgers, who committed suicide in December 2005 in an Arizona jail, as well as Solondz. Solondz, who was on the FBI's most-wanted list, was a fugitive until his arrest in Dali, China, in 2009.
Michael Nance, the attorney appointed to represent Solondz in the U.S. proceedings, said he did not know when his client would be returned to the U.S., but suggested it would be "in the near, or relatively near, future."
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.