[Ppnews] Grand jury probing 2003 housing arson - 3 refuse to testify

Political Prisoner News PPnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Aug 26 14:37:54 EDT 2005

Grand jury probing 2003 housing arson

By Onell R. Soto

August 24, 2005

An animal rights activist was jailed yesterday for refusing to testify 
before a grand jury and joined two other activists imprisoned for resisting 
a federal probe into a huge arson fire and a controversial speech.

Nicole Fink, 27, of City Heights, said she was prepared to be jailed when 
she was called to testify before the secret panel three weeks ago.

She said she considers the grand jury investigation harassment and a 
violation of her rights of free association and free speech.

Prosecutors say the investigation is an effort to find out who set a fire 
at a massive University City housing complex in 2003 and to determine 
whether a federal law was broken at the speech 15 hours later.

Fink got a temporary reprieve after an appeals court a month ago ordered 
the release of the two other activists first jailed July 12 when they 
refused to testify before the same grand jury.

But after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the other two 
activists and they were jailed again Aug. 13, a federal judge last week 
ordered Fink to testify.

Fink said little during a brief hearing before Chief U.S. District Judge 
Irma E. Gonzalez yesterday.

"Are you refusing to testify before the grand jury?" Gonzalez asked.

"Yes," Fink responded.

Gonzalez said prosecutors had granted Fink immunity from prosecution, so 
she couldn't claim her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself.

And, echoing her earlier rulings, the judge told Fink, "you have no First 
Amendment right not to testify."

Gonzalez said she had no choice but to jail Fink and rejected a lawyer's 
request for home detention, saying the point of the confinement was to try 
to get her testimony.

Fink will be jailed until she decides to testify, the grand jury's term 
ends or Gonzalez decides that continuing to jail her is unlikely to get her 
to testify and, as a result, has become a form of punishment.

The grand jury is scheduled to meet for the last time Dec. 27, but Fink's 
lawyer expects its service to be extended for another six months.

Lawyers for David Agranoff, 31, and Danae Kelley, 21, the two other jailed 
activists, said they plan to ask the judge to release them next week.

Prosecutors decided to withdraw their subpoena for Kelley's husband, a 
sailor who just returned from an 8-month deployment after his lawyer argued 
that if he knew anything about the case he would have only learned it from 
his wife.

People can't be forced to testify about things their spouses tell them.

Fink quit her job with an insurance company and moved out of her apartment 
in preparation for being jailed. She said she will never testify.

Gonzalez closed a portion of yesterday's hearing and prosecutors wouldn't 
discuss why they wanted Fink's testimony during the portion that was open 
to the public.

But in earlier court hearings and papers, they have said the activists' 
testimony is needed to investigate the Aug. 1, 2003, fire that caused $50 
million damage to an unfinished housing complex and a speech that night by 
a convicted arsonist.

A task force set up to investigate the fire has made no arrests despite a 
$100,000 reward.

A banner left at the La Jolla Crossroads complex claimed the fire was the 
work of a radical environmental group, the Earth Liberation Front, or ELF.

The convicted arsonist, Rodney Coronado, sometimes acts as a spokesman for 
the underground group and said it appeared to be the group's work.

Federal agents say they are investigating whether Coronado violated a law 
that makes it illegal to explain how to make a destructive device intending 
or knowing that such a device can be used to commit a violent crime.

Coronado, who lives in Tucson, said he used a juice bottle to describe how 
he set fire to an animal lab at Michigan State University, for which he was 
jailed about four years. He said he was in Arizona when the early morning 
University City fire started.

He said he expects to be indicted in San Diego.

All three jailed activists attended the speech by Coronado, but say they 
don't know who set the fire.

They are not active on environmental issues, but focus instead on animal 
rights issues – for instance they don't eat or use products made from 
animals, including eggs or silk.

San Diego activists say they are the target of a government effort to quash 
dissenting viewpoints.

They point to a group of activists subpoenaed by a San Francisco grand jury 
investigating explosions at two companies in Northern California. A federal 
judge there is scheduled to hear Friday from lawyers who want those 
subpoenas suppressed.

Fink's lawyer, David Zugman, said Fink planned to refuse mandatory testing 
for tuberculosis when she is taken to the Metropolitan Correctional Center 
in San Diego because chicken eggs are used to produce the test.

Jail officials plan to quarantine her until they know she is not infected 
with the respiratory disease, Zugman said.

"She's going into solitary," he said.

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