19 - 21, 2010
Case of Briana Waters
FRANK and JEFFREY ST. CLAIR
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.
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.
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 University’s modern science
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.
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.
environmentalists believe GE trees are, as the ELF’s 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.
ELF activists targeted Prof. Bradshaw’s lab for this reason, but they
missed their mark. The fire did not damage the majority of Bradshaw’s
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 ELF’s shitlist.
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.”
just like that the radical environmentalists who besieged Bradshaw’s
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 Bradshaw’s research, they knew exactly what type of
science the professor was practicing and where his research funds originated.
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.
ornery professor remained undeterred, but it was clear the ELF act had struck
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.
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
the FBI coordinated efforts with local authorities and other agencies, they
didn’t 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.
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 FBI’s 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
drug use may have made him vulnerable to the FBI’s 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. He’d 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
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 Portland’s Independent Media webpage in
contempt for his actions.
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
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.
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 you’d peg for a terrorist. She simply
didn’t 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.
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
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.
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.”
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 government’s 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 mater’s
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.
11, 2008 at Western U.S. District in Tacoma, Washington, the government’s
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 she’d 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.
prosecution was led by Assistant United States Attorney Andrew Friedman
and First Assistant United States Attorney Mark Bartlett. The duo’s
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 prosecutor’s claims.
only has Briana Waters pleaded not guilty, she is not guilty … She
is completely innocent, not involved in this or any other arson. The government’s
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."
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. It’s little wonder why Kolar and Phillabaum
felt pressured to name names, even if those people were close friends and
legitimate fellow activists.
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 FBI’s notes
provided to Waters’ defense team, Kolar was interviewed five or six
times before identifying Waters as the lookout.
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.
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 Phillabaum’s 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.
Phillabaum’s fiancé, Stan Meyerhoff, a friend of Jacob Ferguson,
was a cooperating witness in other ELF cases. While Meyerhoff didn’t
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 group’s 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.
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.”
apparently when the blanks weren’t filled in to the Justice Department’s
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 Water’s 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.
little bump in the road didn’t stop the prosecution, however. Waters
did know Bill Rodgers, which was the cornerstone of the FBI’s 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.
would Briana Waters purchase a cell phone for Bill Rodgers if she was worried
about being caught? Rodgers, according the FBI’s profile, would not
have asked Waters to buy him a phone if she was in anyway connected to any
illegal activities. They weren’t 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 UW’s 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.
day on the stand and Phillabaum did her job in implicating Waters in the
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 didn’t 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
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 Water’s 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!”
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 that’s
what you’re 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’.
bear no ill-will toward Briana Waters,” she protested.
Bloom asked, “If you stay with your deal, the best sentence for you
is three years, the worst is five years right?”
of the inputs of the sentence is what the prosecutors tell the judge about
how well you do on the stand, right? It’s fair to say you have an
incentive to please the prosecutors,” defense attorney Bloom asked.
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.”
Bloom’s 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.
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 didn’t 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.
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 wife’s 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.
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. Corrina’s early statements to the
feds only portrayed Waters as having done something wrong.
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. Olympia’s hospital
wouldn’t 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 defense’s
case for a tailspin. Now they didn’t only have to argue that Phillabaum
was lying to save herself, they had to say her cousin was too.
ER story also didn’t hold up well under the prosecution’s scrutiny.
Neither hospital Waters reportedly sought treatment or had any records of
Kolar was up next, who’s 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.
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 FBI’s Most Wanted list.
25, it was FBI Special Agent Tony Torres took the stand as a witness for
the prosecution. Torres was the note-taker for Jennifer Kolar’s 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.
to Torres’ interview with Jennifer Kolar, she recalled events that
were in direct contradiction to Phillabaum’s testimony. Not only did
Kolar not originally recall Waters being involved, she also thought that
Budget rental car used for the night’s 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 government’s allegation that Waters alone acted as a lookout.
big gap in Torres’ testimony was that the FBI did not record Jennifer
Kolar’s 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 Halla’s notes from their interview
with Jennifer Kolar’s on December 16, 2005. Defense attorneys accused
Torres of falsifying documents in order to set up their case against Waters.
a smoking gun, but Torres was perhaps the weakest link in the prosecution’s
case against Briana Waters. He confirmed that the FBI’s two main witnesses’
stories did not match up with one another and had not from the inception
the FBI’s investigation. Kolar changed her account of events numerous
occasions. She didn’t 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.
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 Phillabaum’s
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.
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.
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.
prosecution went first, admitting that Jennifer Kolar’s 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.
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 Kolar’s 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 cousin’s
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.
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.
Judge Burgress didn’t 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. attorney’s office opposed the request, and claimed
they had new evidence that Waters was involved in more than one arson, insisted
that Lacey Phillabuam’s 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.
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.
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."
Frank is co-editor of Dissident Voice and author of Left Out! How Liberals
Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with
Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance
in the Heartland, published by AK Press.
St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me:
the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book, Born Under
a Bad Sky, is published by AK Press / CounterPunch books. He can be reached
article is excerpted from Green Scare: the New War on Environmentalism by
Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank, forthcoming from Haymarket Books.)