[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
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
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
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
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
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
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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