[Ppnews] Briana Waters - A Casualty of GreenScare
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Feb 22 10:59:03 EST 2010
February 19 - 21, 2010
A Casualty of GreenScare
The Case of Briana Waters
By JOSHUA FRANK and JEFFREY ST. CLAIR
Smoke billowed as a wing of the University of
Washington's Center of Urban Horticulture burned
in the early morning hours of Monday, May 21,
2001. It was not the result of a science experiment gone awry -- it was arson.
Situated under a tree, safe from the heat of the
blazing inferno, were boxes of little snakes
staked neatly on top of one another, prompting
former UW researcher Valerie Easton to wonder
"who would torch 20 years of research and plant
and book collections, yet take the time to save a
couple of pet snakes?" They must have been
amateurs she thought, not entirely certain why
anyone would want to burn the research center to the ground.
The group of five men and women, associated with
the covert Earth Liberation Front (ELF), broke
into the building through a window, connected a
digital timer to a 9-volt battery, which in turn
was hooked up to an igniter that was positioned
to spark tubs filled with gasoline. When the
timer went off the igniter clicked and the
gasoline blew. The result was a small, yet fierce
explosion that spread fast through the Universitys modern science facility.
The flames, first spotted by campus security,
were so intense that it took fire fighters two
hours to quell, but the damage was done. UW
claimed over $3 million in loses. Botany labs
burned and decades of scientific research was
lost. Investigators had no leads and only
suspicions of who was behind the mysterious arson.
Five days after the fire investigators got their
first tip in the form of a press release
dispatched by Craig Rosebraugh in Portland, which
claimed the ELF was behind the attack. The target
was UW professor Toby Bradshaw, who received
funding from timber industry to develop
fast-growing cross-pollinated poplar trees, which
are used to produce paper and lumber products.
The genes Bradshaw identified through trial and
error cross-pollination experiments were used by
Oregon State University professor Steve Strauss
who took the genes, often resistant to specific
diseases, and inserted them into poplar seeds
creating genetically engineered (GE) organisms.
Bradshaw in turn grew these poplar trees in greenhouses at UW.
Many environmentalists believe GE trees are, as
the ELFs communiqué stated, an ecological
nightmare. The development of GE applications
in nature, in the absence of environmental
safeguards, is a recipe for disaster. Wild trees
can interbreed with GE trees causing problems
scientists can only speculate about. Genes from
GE poplar trees, for example, are free, just like
pollen or seeds that blow with the wind and can
invade forests, spreading fast and disrupting the
genetic diversity that allows forest ecology to evolve naturally over time.
The ELF activists targeted Prof. Bradshaws lab
for this reason, but they missed their mark. The
fire did not damage the majority of Bradshaws
actual scientific research. He made backups of
all of his work, which was previously targeted by
anti-GE activists during the WTO protests in
1999. Bradshaw was not happy about being on placed on the ELFs shitlist.
It's very hard to have a discussion with [these
types of environmentalists]. The most vocal
critics don't know very much about the science,
Bradshaw publicly bemoaned. They don't have the
ability to distinguish good science from bad
science or even non-science. They just don't have
the background ... In order to support (the) ELF,
you have to espouse terrorism as a tactic which
after Sept. 11, I think is pretty untenable.
And just like that the radical environmentalists
who besieged Bradshaws work at UW were deemed a
terrorist threat even though they were meticulous
in the execution of their act, making sure nobody
would be injured. Their target was property, not
human life. They did their homework, ensuring
that janitors were not on duty that night, and
despite what the mainstream media reported about
Bradshaws research, they knew exactly what type
of science the professor was practicing and where
his research funds originated.
"[These people are] anti-intellectual bigots
incapable of making a reasoned argument in a
public forum, but capable only of throwing a
firebomb in the dead of night," Bradshaw wrote in
a sternly worded opinion piece for the Seattle
Post-Intelligencer shortly after the incident.
The ornery professor remained undeterred, but it
was clear the ELF act had struck a nerve.
The UW research facility was just one in a string
of attacks by the nebulous group, and as a result
in 2004 the FBI merged seven of its on-going
investigations into Operation Backfire in an
attempt to round up the eco-bandits who allegedly
struck a Vail ski resort, a horse slaughterhouse, and even an SUV dealership.
Investigating and preventing animal rights and
environmental extremism is one of the FBI's
highest domestic terrorism priorities, said FBI
Director Robert Mueller. We are committed to
working with our partners to disrupt and
dismantle these movements, to protect our fellow
citizens, and to bring to justice those who
commit crime and terrorism in the name of animal
rights or environmental issues.
Until the FBI coordinated efforts with local
authorities and other agencies, they didnt have
much to work with in regard to the UW fire. No
real evidence was left behind, and any that did
exist went up in smoke. They needed someone on
the inside to come forward, who would name names
and point fingers. The FBI found the informant
they needed in late spring 2003 and the fact that
their man was a heroin addict by the name of Jacob Ferguson.
Ferguson was a tattooed strung out drifter who
traveled across the country, apparently leaving
nothing but ashes behind. He admitted to over a
dozen arsons, mostly in Oregon where he spent the
majority of his time. He claimed to know almost
every member of the ELF, and became the FBIs
go-to guy in amassing hours upon hours of tape
recordings of conversations he had with his
friends. As a drug abuser, Ferguson likely came
forward ready to tell all, or make up stories, in
order to cash in the reward of $50,000 the FBI
announced in May of 2004 that they would offer
anyone with information about the UW fire.
Fergusons drug use may have made him vulnerable
to the FBIs persuasive ways, and money is
usually a great impetus for junkies with heroin
habits. Over the course of almost two years
Ferguson was showing up in places he had not been
seen before. Hed been sighted at environmental
law conferences and Earth First! outings, events
he avoided in the past, likely wired the entire
time, recording conversations that had nothing to
do with the FBI investigation.
When news broke in late December 2005 that
Ferguson was a government witness, anger spread
like an ELF fire across the Pacific Northwest
environmental community. Acquaintances turned to
enemies, and some even left responses about their
former ally on Portlands Independent Media
webpage in contempt for his actions.
The entire [investigation]
seems to rest on
the words, actions and credibility of this one
man, a man we now learn has lived a double life.
In a community where there is consensus distrust,
even disgust for the federal government and
especially its law enforcement operatives, Jake
pretended he was one of us. He was and is one of
them, commented a poster named Mongoose. How
long has Jake been a federal narc? The reason
this issue is critical turns on the fact that
some of the alleged arsons may actually have been
planned or implemented with federal law
enforcement help. That could well constitute entrapment.
It wasnt long after Ferguson turned informant
that the FBI began rapping on doors of
environmental activists across the country,
picking up where Ferguson left off. He was
leading them straight to his friends, people who
welcomed him into their homes and around their
dinner tables. It seemed as if Ferguson would do
whatever it took to keep himself out of prison,
even if that meant losing those people who were closest to him.
The chase started by Ferguson eventually led to
the front stoop of a wholesome violin teacher
living in Berkeley, California in 2004. Briana
Waters, 32 at the time, was not someone youd peg
for a terrorist. She simply didnt look the type.
A strung out Ferguson, on the other hand, with a
pentagram tattoo sprawled across his balding
head, fit the stereotypical profile a bit better.
He looked like an arsonist. Waters looked like a
young mother, which was exactly what she was.
Raised in suburban Philadelphia, Waters came from
an upper-middle class household and left her
family behind to attend college at Evergreen
State College in Olympia, Washington in the late
1990s. Evergreen is a bastion of progressive
activism and has a strong reputation for turning
out radical students, with the list including
Rachel Corrie who lost her life while standing up
to an Israeli Defense Force bulldozer in an
attempt a spare a Palestinian home from
demolition in 2003. Waters and Corrie were
Evergreen students at the same time, and like
Corrie, Waters was a committed, well-known activist on campus.
Waters headed up the animal rights group on
campus and was committed to naturalist education,
leading hikes through the nearby wilderness on
weekends teaching people about the native flora.
By her senior year Waters was becoming seasoned
environmental activist, cutting her teeth as a
tree-sitter in an effort to stop the logging of
Watch Mountain, an old-growth preserve in the
Cascade Mountain range in Washington.
While tree-sitting was a frequent tactic of
environmentalists in Oregon and even British
Columbia, but Washington state was not accustomed
to this type of direct action:
These tree-sitters, calling themselves the
Cascadia Defense Network, don't like the
government's plan to give 25 square miles of
heavily forested mountain land on the west slope
of the Cascades to the timber company in exchange
for 75 square miles of prime hiking land near
Snoqualmie Pass, reported Robert McClure for the
Seattle Post-Intelligencer in August 1999.
Loggers for generations, many local residents
have stood by as the local mill closed and timber
companies began shipping timber overseas for
processing. Like the protesters, they are not happy with big timber companies.
Waters and her green comrades were not only
confronting the logging industry and the
government, they were also tossing dirt in the
face of big environmental groups in Seattle who
signed off on the deal let Plum Creek Timber Co.
log Watch Mountain, near the small town of
Randle, Washington. It may have been Waters
first real brush up with the radicals of the
Northwest environmental movement, one that would
later be used to discredit her true intentions.
We just want to sit up there in those trees and
be a spectacle for you, fellow activist Tim Ream
told local Washington residents about the protest
his group organized. We're going to sit up there
until there are chain saws buzzing all around us
and they take us to jail. And we're not going to make it easy for them.
The direct action worked, after five long months
the Cascadia Defense Network was victorious and
Waters caught the victory on film for his senior
project at Evergreen State College. Her heartfelt
footage documented the struggle with the timber
barons as well as friendly relationship between
the activists and the local townsfolk. Over
28,000 acres of prime wilderness was ultimately
saved and the public land was never handed over to Plum Creek Timber.
The FBI was out to track down the perpetrators of
the UW fire and they were more than ready to use
the testimony provided by cooperating witnesses
to do so. Two of the governments key informants
in the UW case were 31 year-old Lacey Phillabaum
a former editor of Earth First! Journal, and
Jennifer Kolar, 33, a millionaire yacht
enthusiast with a maters degree in astrophysics.
In order to shorten their own sentences, Kolar
and Phillabaum agreed to testify against Waters,
claiming she was the lookout for the arson and
borrowed a car to drive to the campus that night.
They even insisted Waters lived on the property
where the explosive device was assembled by her
boyfriend at the time, Justin Solondz.
On February 11, 2008 at Western U.S. District in
Tacoma, Washington, the governments case against
Briana Waters began with U.S. District Judge
Franklin D. Burgess presiding. The location of
the trial was moved from Seattle, as prosecutors
believed shed have a less sympathetic jury
outside the Emerald City. The jury was selected
during the first day and at 9:00am the on
February 12 the courtroom theatre began, with a
packed room full of Waters friends, family, and supporters.
The prosecution was led by Assistant United
States Attorney Andrew Friedman and First
Assistant United States Attorney Mark Bartlett.
The duos opening remarks to the jury painted
Waters as a dangerous environmental extremist who
was willing to do whatever it took to terrorize
their target, Prof. Toby Bradshaw.
What the defendant and her accomplices did that
night was wrong in every way, Friedman told the
12-person jury as he described Waters as the
lookout that night. ... If there was one
building in Seattle that helped the environment,
it was probably the Center for Urban
Horticulture. They plotted [their attack] for
weeks and built complicated firebombs at a house
the defendant rented, Friedman continued. She
had her cousin rent a car to use in the action
and they drove it to Seattle, ate dinner, drove
to the Urban Horticulture building, near a
residential area, parked on a hill in the
residential neighborhood a block away from the
building. Waters stayed in the bushes with a
radio while the others broke into an office [and planted the firebomb].
The defense team, made up of attorneys Neal Fox
and Robert Bloom, claimed the federal prosecutors
were barking up the wrong tree, and the hunt for
the real perpetrators led them to an innocent
woman. They argued that the evidence was simply
not there to support the prosecutors claims.
Not only has Briana Waters pleaded not guilty,
she is not guilty
She is completely innocent,
not involved in this or any other arson. The
governments proof is what is on trial, Bloom
asserted to the jury. The government must prove
beyond a reasonable doubt ... Ms. Waters is
innocent not because of some technicality, but
because she was not involved with this group of
people in any arson, in any discussion of arson ... that's not what happened."
While prosecutors seemed to draw on guilty by
association tactics, Waters defense team
cautioned jurors to look at the facts of the
case, not just the illegal actions of her former
acquaintances. Both Kolar and Phillabaum began
cooperating with the FBI shortly after their
initial roundup along with five other
environmentalists for a separate Oregon arson in
2005. In exchange for helping the government
build its case against fellow activists by
wearing a concealed wire, prosecutors promised to
cut them a deal. Minimum sentences for arson
alone carry a statutory minimum of 30 years with
the threat of a maximum life term. Its little
wonder why Kolar and Phillabaum felt pressured to
name names, even if those people were close
friends and legitimate fellow activists.
Problem was, Kolar, when first interviewed by the
FBI in December 2005, only fingered four other
participants in the UW arson. Kolar even told the
FBI what each of their aliases were. Briana
Waters was not on her list. A surprising lapse in
memory considering Waters supposedly drove to the
site of the arson that night. It was only later,
after being pressured by government prosecutors,
that Kolar named Waters as the lookout. According
to the FBIs notes provided to Waters defense
team, Kolar was interviewed five or six times
before identifying Waters as the lookout.
As Jennifer Kolar sought to strike a plea bargain
with the feds she abruptly remembered who the
lookout was that night. In mid-January 2006 Kolar
was shown a photo of Waters, which she recognized
by name, but did not say Waters was involved in
the incident. It was almost a full month later,
in March 2006, that Kolar informed the FBI of Waters alleged participation.
Aside from the testimonies of Kolar and
Phillabaum, the FBI had little to work with.
Their original informant, Jacob Ferguson had a
drug problem, which would certainly dispel any
legitimacy he would have on the stand, plus he
was not even directly involved in the UW
incident, he only led the FBI down Kolar and
Phillabaums trail. Anything he confessed would
be hearsay. The alleged ringleader of the UW
arson, argued the prosecution, was Bill Rodgers,
known to others in as Avalon, a man who committed
suicide by wrapping a plastic bag over his head
in his jail cell shortly after being arrested in
Arizona in December 2005. There was simply no
hard evidence that tied Waters to the crime scene
that night. No fingerprints were left behind, no
minuscule strains of DNA were found. All the
prosecutors had were suspicion and the testimony
of two activists who struck plea deals in order
to save themselves from decades in prison.
Lacey Phillabaums fiancé, Stan Meyerhoff, a
friend of Jacob Ferguson, was a cooperating
witness in other ELF cases. While Meyerhoff
didnt participate in the UW arson, he attended
secret Book Club meetings leading up to the event
and said Waters was not involved in the UW arson.
The Book Club, hosted at different locations,
served as the organizing nucleus for the groups
covert actions. Meyerhoff even ratted on the love
of his life, Lacey Phillabaum. He did not seem to
be holding any information back from the FBI.
"Within twenty-four hours [of being arrested],
with no deal of any sort on the table, Stan was
supposedly squealing like a pig," said Lauren
Regan, a lawyer with the Civil Liberties Defense
Center in Eugene, Oregon. "Given that Jake had a
heroin-riddled mind; Stan was able to fill in a
lot of blanks for the prosecution.
But apparently when the blanks werent filled in
to the Justice Departments liking, they simply
invented scenarios based on innuendo and stories
told by cooperating witnesses who were copping
plea deals. On March 17, 2006, Stan Meyerhoff,
handed over to the FBI by his pal Jacob Ferguson,
was questioned by the feds and shown pictures of
people who were under investigation for numerous
ELF actions. One of those photos was of Briana
Waters. Meyerhoff told investigators that the
woman in the photo looked familiar but stated
that she was not involved in any action. He was
sure of it. The case, according to Waters
defense, should have ended right then and there.
Meyerhoff admitted to being intimately involved
in numerous ELF acts and knew all the players,
but stated outright that Waters was not one of them.
This little bump in the road didnt stop the
prosecution, however. Waters did know Bill
Rodgers, which was the cornerstone of the FBIs
case against her. Rodgers, like Waters, was also
an above ground environmental activist who was
often strapped for cash and had credit problems.
As a result Waters purchased a cell phone for him
and paid his phone bills to help him out.
Prosecutors argued that Rodgers and ELF were
cautious and meticulous in all of their crimes.
They left no trail, absolutely nothing that could
lead authorities to their whereabouts.
So why would Briana Waters purchase a cell phone
for Bill Rodgers if she was worried about being
caught? Rodgers, according the FBIs profile,
would not have asked Waters to buy him a phone if
she was in anyway connected to any illegal
activities. They werent that careless. That was
the case Waters defense attempted to make:
purchasing phone and paying its monthly bill is
not a crime, and in no way put Waters at the
scene of the crime that night. But what did, the
prosecution countered, was the vehicle she had
her cousins rent for her that Waters allegedly
used to drive from Olympia, Washington to UWs campus in Seattle.
On February 15, 2007 Lacey Phillabaum took the
stand. Expressing sympathy for all involved,
Phillabaum was still clear why she was testifying
against Briana Waters. I had regrets and did not
want to spend 30 years in jail, she told the prosecutor.
An entire day on the stand and Phillabaum did her
job in implicating Waters in the UW arson.
She claimed Rodgers vouched for her since she
never attended any of the underground Book Club
meetings. Phillabaum said her and Waters saw the
clean room where the bomb device was
constructed by Rodgers and Waters boyfriend,
Justin Solondz. Waters, according to Phillabaum,
was put in charge of procuring a car for the
drive to the UW campus. On her second day of
testimony Phillabaum told of regret for what she
did and her tumultuous transition back in to ordinary life with Stan Meyerhoff,
[Stan Meyerhoff and I] got to know each other
and began reintegrating back [into] mainstream
[culture], it was hard to do, Phillabaum said.
First part of getting uninvolved [with the ELF]
was admitting to each other that we didnt want
to be involved. Which was hard to do having met
in this context ... After 9/11 I decided it was
intolerable to be involved with anything like
this. We shared a mutual reinforcement of values.
Phillabaum, whose parents are both lawyers, was
certainly primed for the barrage of questions the
defense peppered her with. Phillabaum, insisted
the defense, slept with Waters boyfriend Justin
Solondz. Phillabaum told Waters defense attorney
Robert Bloom that she did not remember Waters
ever confronting her, where Waters yelled, how
dare you have an affair with my boyfriend!
I think the implication is that we had a sexual
interaction. That is not correct, Phillabaum
told Bloom. I never gave him a blow job either
if thats what youre implying. To which Bloom
replied, It is about whether you bear ill-will
toward Briana ... Briana called you all kinds of
names. Disrespectful, unprincipled, not fit to
be involved with the movement.
I bear no ill-will toward Briana Waters, she protested.
Later Bloom asked, If you stay with your deal,
the best sentence for you is three years, the worst is five years right?
Yes, Phillabaum responded.
...One of the inputs of the sentence is what the
prosecutors tell the judge about how well you do
on the stand, right? Its fair to say you have an
incentive to please the prosecutors, defense attorney Bloom asked.
I am not particularly motivated by my plea
deal, Phillabaum explained to Bloom. I am
committed to fulfill it, but emotional and moral
commitment which drives me to be honest is to the
researchers who I victimized. I would rather do
three years than five, but I will do no more than five no matter what I say.
Overall Blooms questions to Phillabaum were not
overly interrogating. She held her composure and
stuck to her story. Briana Waters, Phillabaum
recalled, was involved in obtaining the vehicle
for the night and met with all involved for
dinner at the Green Lake Bar: Justin Solondz,
Bill Rodgers, Jen Kolar, Briana Waters and
herself. Had she not implicated Waters, claimed
defense attorney Bloom, Phillabaum would face up to 35 years in prison.
The real linchpin in Waters trial was not Lacey
Phillabaum, but Waters cousin Robert Corrina. On
February 19, Corrina was called to testify
against his cousin. He was repeatedly interviewed
by the FBI, with varying stories leading up to
the trial. At first Corrina said he did not know
Waters, who even lived with him and his wife when
she first moved to Olympia. In preceding
interviews he said he did, but didnt know
anything about a rental car which was in fact
rented by his wife on Waters behalf and even
deposited $200 cash the week before.
Defense attorneys insisted that since Corrina
told contradictory stories to the FBI on numerous
occasions that now the feds hold your life in
their hands. To which Corrina responded, Not
true. The FBI even went to his wifes place of
employment and threatened them both with the
possibility of a perjury charge, a felony
offense. Like their case against Briana Waters,
the feds also had Corrina cornered.
As Corrina squirmed in his seat as he was grilled
with questions, the Waters defense seemed to be
unraveling. The jury did not seem to be buying
the fact that Corrina was bullied by the FBI to
indict his cousin in order to save both him and
his wife from prison. What the jury was presented
with by the prosecution was a soft man who was
telling the truth after having initially lied in
an attempt to protect his cousin. Corrinas early
statements to the feds only portrayed Waters as having done something wrong.
On the Sunday night of the arson, recalled
Corrina for the first time on record, her
boyfriend Justin Solondz drove Waters in the
rental car to the Emergency Room because Waters
was having abdominal pains. Olympias hospital
wouldnt allow her, so she drove to Seattle, said
Corrina. It was the first time Waters was said to
have been with Solondz on the same night as the
arson. It was damning testimony, and it sent the
defenses case for a tailspin. Now they didnt
only have to argue that Phillabaum was lying to
save herself, they had to say her cousin was too.
Waters ER story also didnt hold up well under
the prosecutions scrutiny. Neither hospital
Waters reportedly sought treatment or had any records of her visit.
Jennifer Kolar was up next, whos testimony,
despite the fact that she had at first not
included Waters as involved in her FBI
interrogation, did not help Waters cause. When
questioned about her memory trouble, Kolar
replied, I contradicted myself and my memory.
The defense backed off right at the very moment
they should have pounced. They painted Kolar as a
cold-hearted rich girl who, unlike Phillabaum,
had little remorse for the actions she committed
as a clandestine member of the Earth Liberation
Front. But however cold Kolar was on the stand,
the defense did not attack her truthfulness in
such a way that would convince the jury that she
was lying to reduce her own sentence.
Waters case was falling apart at the seams. Her
cousin Robert Corrina put her in the car he
helped obtain and Phillabaum and Kolar put her at
the scene of the arson as a lookout. Despite a
lack of hard evidence, Waters did not have a
solid alibi. As for boyfriend Justin Solondz, the
one person who could have either corroborated or
confirmed Waters whereabouts that night he was
long gone, having fled after the initial arrests
and is currently a fugitive on the FBIs Most Wanted list.
On February 25, it was FBI Special Agent Tony
Torres took the stand as a witness for the
prosecution. Torres was the note-taker for
Jennifer Kolars interview on January 12, 2006
where she was shown a photo of Briana Waters and
recognized her, but did not say she was in any
way involved in the UW arson. After a long,
evasive testimony, Torres was forced to admit
that Kolar never named Briana Waters as a
participant until well after the FBI already fixed on her as a suspect.
According to Torres interview with Jennifer
Kolar, she recalled events that were in direct
contradiction to Phillabaums testimony. Not only
did Kolar not originally recall Waters being
involved, she also thought that Budget rental car
used for the nights event was obtained by Bill
Rodgers, not Waters. Also, Phillabaum testified
that the car was scrapped while speeding out of
the neighborhood where they parked near UW, but
Kolar did not recall this happening, nor could
Special Agent Torres provide any evidence from
Budget that the car returned by Robert Corrina
sustained any damage. Torres also testified that
Phillabaum told the FBI that both Briana Waters
and Justin Solondz acted as lookouts during the
UW arson, in contrast with the governments
allegation that Waters alone acted as a lookout.
The big gap in Torres testimony was that the FBI
did not record Jennifer Kolars testimony, even
though it is FBI protocol to do so. He also
admitted he stopped taking notes in the middle of
the interview in an attempt to avoid the
confusion that resulted in major discrepancies
between him and Special Agent Ted Hallas notes
from their interview with Jennifer Kolars on
December 16, 2005. Defense attorneys accused
Torres of falsifying documents in order to set up their case against Waters.
It wasnt a smoking gun, but Torres was perhaps
the weakest link in the prosecutions case
against Briana Waters. He confirmed that the
FBIs two main witnesses stories did not match
up with one another and had not from the
inception the FBIs investigation. Kolar changed
her account of events numerous occasions. She
didnt recall a scrap on the car, nor did she
even remember that they used a rental car, as she
told the FBI originally that they drove a van to
UW, a much more realistic vehicle given the
number of people allegedly involved in the arson.
Both Phillabaum and Kolar also said that Waters
and crew met at the Greek Lake Bar on the night
of the crime. Kolar said they met " around 9 at
night, 8 at night, while Phillabaum testified
they met in the "early evening". Defense lawyers
challenged both Kolar and Phillabaums
recollection and presented a bank card receipt
which put Waters 60 miles away in Olympia at 7:12
p.m, and given that their was a Seattle Mariners
game and construction that evening, it was
unlikely, with even normal traffic on Interstate
5, that Waters would have been able to drive to
UW in time to meet the others at the bar.
While Briana Waters took the stand in her own
defense, a wave of trepidation filled the air,
even sending Judge Burgess into afternoon siesta.
Supporters in the courtroom were convinced there
were simply too many conflicting testimonies and
evidence to convict Waters of any crime. It was
now Waters turn to speak in her own defense. She
denied any involvement whatsoever in the UW
arson, or any arson for that matter. She did not
attend any Book Club meetings. She knew Bill
Rodgers, but only for his above ground
activities. Waters did not believe that arson was
a legitimate form of environmental activism,
something she realized during her time on Watch
Mountain as she worked with others to organize
local communities against proposed logging.
As the defense and prosecution laid out their
final arguments for and against Briana Waters, a
fire erupted in a posh Seattle development
project called Street of Dreams and the ELF
claimed responsibility. Perhaps it was more than
poor timing. Or perhaps it set by contractors in
an attempt to cash in on some insurance money
before the housing boom reached their cul-de-sac.
Regardless, it certainly did not help Waters.
The prosecution went first, admitting that
Jennifer Kolars memory was suspect, but that she
was certain Waters was a lookout for the arson.
They cautioned the jury to see past Waters soft
veneer, for she was a radical environmentalist at
heart. A domestic terrorist willing to use the
threat of violence to spread her
anti-establishment message. It was their duty,
prosecutors insisted, to put Waters behind bars
where she belongs, even though all they really
ever accused her of was holding a walkie-talkie
as lookout. But domestic terrorism is serious,
they contended, and she must be punished for her
actions, no matter how minor they may seem.
The defense believed they provided the jury with
numerous examples that ought to lead to
reasonable doubt. Enough that would set Briana
Waters free. They pointed out Kolars mangled
testimony and Special Agent Torres bad note
taking habits. They said the fact that they had a
receipt from Waters in Olympia made it virtually
impossible to meet at the Green Lake Bar with the
rest of the arsonists. They pointed out that
cooperating witness Stan Meyerhoff, second only
under Bill Rodgers, said Waters was never
involved in any actions. They said that the cell
phone payments and her cousins rental car was
not evidence that she committed the crime. There
were just too many unanswered questions and too
much innuendo to find Briana Waters guilty, the defense argued.
On June 2, 2008, Waters defense attorneys filed
a motion which they claim revealed that Jennifer
Kolar patently lied and deceived the FBI and
jury, and that an investigation was required to
determine was action needs to be taken in light
of such a disclosure. The defense motion was
based upon documents the government disclosed
after the trial. The new information, the defense
claimed, should have resulted in a mistrial.
Unfortunately, Judge Burgress didnt agree and
jurors were unable to convict on all counts, but
they did find Waters guilty on two counts of
arson. While awaited her sentencing, Waters
lawyers asked that she be released until her
sentencing so she could spent more time with her
partner and 3-year-old daughter. The U.S.
attorneys office opposed the request, and
claimed they had new evidence that Waters was
involved in more than one arson, insisted that
Lacey Phillabuams fiancé Stan Meyerhoff, who
said before that Waters was never involved, that
Waters participated in an attack at the
Litchfield Wild Horse and Burro Ranch in Susanville, California.
On Thursday, June 19, 2008, Briana Waters was
sentenced to 6 years in prison. Letters of
support and a tearful plea by her own mother
could not keep her out of prison. Lacey
Phillabaum and Jennifer Kolar dramatically
reduced their sentences, with Phillabaum
receiving 36 months and Kolar 60 months.
Prosecutors used scare-mongering to get the jury
to convict an innocent person," Waters' lawyer,
Robert Bloom, told Salon shortly after the trial
ended. "This is really a study in American
prosecution. It was an absurdly slanted American prosecution."
Joshua Frank is co-editor of Dissident Voice and
Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush
(Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with
Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of
State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in
the Heartland, published by AK Press.
Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of
Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the
Politics of Nature and
Theft Pentagon. His newest book,
Under a Bad Sky, is published by AK Press /
CounterPunch books. He can be reached at:
<mailto:sitka at comcast.net>sitka at comcast.net.
(This article is excerpted from Green Scare: the
New War on Environmentalism by Jeffrey St. Clair
and Joshua Frank, forthcoming from Haymarket Books.)
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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