[Ppnews] Briana Waters facing Seattle trial

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jan 22 10:41:59 EST 2008

Monday, January 21, 2008 - Page updated at 12:21 PM

Arson suspect facing trial

By Hal Bernton
Seattle Times staff reporter

In the predawn hours of May 21, 2001, Briana 
Waters says, she was nowhere near the University 
of Washington campus in Seattle and was most likely asleep in Olympia.

Federal prosecutors say Waters served as a 
lookout that morning for a five-person Earth 
Liberation Front team that set fire to the UW's Center for Urban Horticulture.

Next month, in a federal courtroom in Tacoma, the 
32-year-old violin teacher is scheduled to face 
trial for her alleged role in an attack that 
caused more than $1.5 million in damage to the university's building.

Waters faces charges of conspiracy, arson and use 
of a destructive device in a crime of violence. 
If convicted on all counts, she faces a mandatory prison sentence of 35 years.

It would be the first trial for any of the 18 men 
and women indicted on a charge of their alleged 
involvement in a militant Pacific Northwest 
underground that carried out more than a dozen 
acts of arson and sabotage against targets deemed 
a threat to the environment or animals. The 
attacks caused tens of millions of dollars in damage.

Waters is not considered to be a ringleader of 
the underground cells. But because she has 
refused to accept a plea deal, she risks a 
courtroom verdict that could stick her with the 
harshest prison term of anyone sentenced to date.

Twelve other people have reached plea agreements, 
and, according to court documents, their 
sentences are expected to range from probation to 
13 years. Four others have fled from federal 
authorities. And Bill Rodgers ­ an alleged 
ringleader of the attacks ­ committed suicide 
after being taken into custody in Arizona in 2005.

Waters now lives in California, where she is 
married and has a young daughter. She has hired 
two attorneys ­ Robert Bloom, of Oakland, and 
Neil Fox, of Seattle ­ who have been involved in 
a bitter run-up to the Feb. 11 trial.

Much of the dispute involves an initial FBI 
interview with Jennifer Kolar, one of those who 
made a plea agreement and a confessed participant 
in the arson. In that Dec. 2005 interview, the 
FBI notes indicate Kolar named four other 
participants in the UW arson, and that list did 
not include Waters. Only in later interviews, did 
Kolar name Waters, according to court documents.

Defense attorneys initially did not have access 
to the FBI notes. Instead, they were given a 
summary of the interview that said Kolar could 
not definitively remember all the participants, only herself and Rodgers.

Defense attorneys allege that federal officials 
intentionally crafted a misleading summary, and 
sought unsuccessfully to have U.S. Assistant 
Attorney Andrew Friedman removed from the case for misconduct.

Federal prosecutors in Seattle say there has been 
no misconduct and that they have fully complied 
with all disclosure laws. They, in turn, have 
accused defense attorneys of "a deliberate 
attempt to poison the jury pool" by seeking a 
pretrial court hearing earlier this month to address the allegations.

The trial stems from a lengthy government 
investigation into the Earth Liberation Front 
(ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front, groups 
which the U.S. Justice Department portrays as 
domestic terrorists with hubs in Olympia and Eugene, Ore.

During a six-year period that began in 1996, 
various members launched arsons targeting a U.S. 
Forest Service office, a Vail, Colo., ski lodge, 
a central Oregon slaughterhouse, a Eugene car 
dealership, a federal agriculture-research center in Olympia and other sites.

Water is accused of joining a "double-whammy" on 
May 21, 2001, intended to strike a blow against 
the genetic engineering of fast-growing poplar trees.

According to trial briefs filed by the Justice 
Department, separate five-person teams set two 
fires ­ one that burned buildings at a 
Clatskanie, Ore., tree farm and a second that 
targeted the Center for Urban Horticulture office 
of Toby Bradshaw, a University of Washington 
professor involved in poplar research.

The ELF mistakenly thought he was genetically engineering trees.

Federal prosecutors say that both teams launched 
their actions from Olympia and that the cell 
involved in the UW attack then drove north to 
Seattle in a rented sedan, which Waters had 
helped acquire. There, they ate at the Greenlake 
Bar & Grill and then headed out to the UW, where 
the fire was set with time-delayed devices that 
ignited buckets filled with a mixture of gasoline 
and diesel, the prosecution says.

An ELF news release issued five days later said 
the poplars posed an "ecological nightmare" 
threatening the biodiversity of native forests.

Waters, who grew up outside of Philadelphia, 
attended The Evergreen State College.

In the spring of 2001, she was finishing a 
documentary she had filmed and directed about the 
protests two years earlier to save old-growth 
trees on federal forest land outside of Randle, Lewis County.

Waters' boyfriend at the time was Justin Solondz, 
now a fugitive accused in federal indictments of 
participating in the UW attack. But defense 
attorneys say Waters and Solondz maintained 
separate households and that Waters was not 
involved in any of the planning or execution of the UW arson.

"Ms. Waters naturally has very little 
recollection of exactly what she was doing ... in 
the early morning hours of May 21, 2001, other 
than likely being asleep in bed," her attorneys 
wrote in a trial brief. "... She is, however, 
certain that the one thing she did not do is 
participate in the arson at the University of 
Washington Center for Urban Horticulture."

During the trial, defense attorneys are expected 
to challenge the creditability of key prosecution 
witnesses who have pleaded guilty to 
participating in the arson and sabotage conspiracy.

Kolar is expected to come under some of the 
toughest questioning for her flip-flop in FBI 
interviews that first excluded Waters from the UW arson, then included her.

Defense attorneys also are challenging 
prosecutors' use of the term "fire bomb" to 
describe the delayed-timing devices and tubs of fuel that ignited the fire.

More than semantics are at stake. If they succeed 
in that challenge, then Waters could not be 
charged with "use of a destructive device in a 
crime of violence," the highest-penalty offense 
that carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 30 
years. The arson count carries another mandatory sentence of five years.

Prosecutors, in trial briefs, have said that both 
Kolar and Lacey Phillabaum, who has pleaded 
guilty in the UW arson, will testify at the trial 
that Waters assisted in carrying out the UW arson.

Phillabaum is expected to testify that she was at 
Waters' home in Olympia during the weekend before 
the attack. There, Phillabaum observed Solondz 
soldering timers in a "clean room" in preparation 
for the arson attack, according to prosecutors' 
trial briefs. She alleges that the team drove to 
Seattle in a car that Waters arranged to rent.

Prosecutors say two team members involved in the 
Oregon poplar-farm arson will provide 
"corroborating details" about Waters' involvement.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581

or <mailto:hbernton at seattletimes.com>hbernton at seattletimes.com

© 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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