Animal Rights Prisoner Of Silence

21/2/10

Stuck 3 months in Iowa jail for refusal to testify. Feds say the Minneapolis woman may have information on terrorist acts.

Having sat three months now in an Iowa jail, Carrie Feldman of Minneapolis is a hero to scores of animal-rights defenders around the world. But to the U.S. government, the 20-year-old left-wing political activist is a potential witness who may know something about a daring break-in more than five years ago at a University of Iowa laboratory. When she refused to testify before a grand jury, a judge ordered her jailed Nov. 17 for contempt of court. She's been in a cell ever since and could legally be held 11 months if she continues her silence.

Her attorney and supporters say Feldman's plight illustrates how the U.S. government runs roughshod over citizens who resist policies they believe unjust. But officials of that government have said she may have ties to domestic terrorist groups and has a duty to tell what she knows. In a recent interview, Feldman said she was 15 at the time of the break-in, didn't participate in it and doesn't know who did. The Nov. 14, 2004, attack on Spence Laboratories drew widespread attention when members of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) released video of themselves breaking into the lab, rescuing hundreds of rats and mice, smashing computers and dumping chemicals. Damages totaled $450,000. For five years, police made no arrests. Then, in November 2009, they arrested Feldman and her former boyfriend, Scott DeMuth, 22, for refusing to testify to the grand jury despite offers of immunity. Shortly thereafter, the grand jury indicted DeMuth in the break-in. He says he's innocent.
Ironically, DeMuth, still uncooperative but now a defendant, was allowed to post bail, return to the Twin Cities and await trial. Feldman, though not charged in the break-in, sits in jail. "They're really using her as a pawn in this whole thing," said her attorney, Jordan Kushner of Minneapolis.

Feldman said she refused to testify because she opposes the grand jury system and how, in her belief, it undercuts citizens' rights. "It's a principle thing for me," she said by telephone from jail, adding that her case shows "how easy it is for [the federal government] to abuse the statutes and the secrecy that surrounds it all. I haven't seen any evidence of why they want my testimony or [have] any reason to hold me." Evidence not shown Clifford Cronk, U.S. Attorney for that region, declined to discuss the case. His office presented evidence to judges that attorneys for the pair have not seen. Those documents purportedly argue that a conspiracy surrounding the break-in continued after the crime, justifying the charge against DeMuth even though the five-year statute of limitations for the crime had expired.

Prosecutors have said that evidence, if revealed, could affect testimony or compromise the case against unindicted suspects. DeMuth, a University of Minnesota graduate student, is charged with animal enterprise terrorism. He was 17 at the time of the break-in. Prosecutors say they can link DeMuth to the 2008 Republican National Convention Welcoming Committee, which planned to disrupt the RNC in St. Paul. DeMuth was never arrested or charged with RNC-related activities. They also say he's been part of anti-government protests. "Defendant's writings, literature, and conduct suggest that he is an anarchist and associated with the ALF movement," Cronk wrote. "Therefore, he is a domestic terrorist." DeMuth's attorney, Michael Deutsch of Chicago, has filed motions for dismissal on several grounds; a trial is scheduled to get underway in March. Though Feldman and DeMuth's case files are sealed by court order, both have provided documents to supporters who post them online.

Defining anarchism

Feldman, who studied two years at St. Catherine University before taking time off, is, like DeMuth, active in several Minnesota organizations, including Coldsnap Legal Collective and Earth Warriors are OK! (EWOK!), which supports people arrested during environmental or animal rights protests. She was volunteering with Coldsnap when she was arrested during the RNC and said Ramsey County Sheriff Robert Fletcher told her she was suspected of conspiracy to commit a riot. Officials released her without charges. She, like Deutsch, believes the RNC connections could be linked to the current arrest. "Feldman likely has knowledge about persons associated with ALF; she does not deny it," Cronk argued in writing. "The nature of her arguments which deflect attention from her and attacks the government suggest that she does." Jim Feldman, called to the stand during his daughter's November contempt hearing, says he answered "yes" when asked if she was an anarchist.
"In retrospect, I should have asked Cronk to define his term," he said in an e-mail. "Subsequent statements from him indicate that he thinks anarchism equates to being a terrorist intent on using violent means to take down the government."

The government notes that in 2006 Carrie Feldman owned white rats similar to those sprung from the laboratory. Her mother, Julia Philips, said the pets came from a friend and the humane society. She said the government's insinuation is "kind of wacky." Kushner, whose appeals for Feldman's release have twice been denied, continues to try, with a latest court ruling expected Monday. Feldman said she's prepared to do the whole 11 months, if necessary. She adds:
I don't think they should have the right to force me to testify or bully me by holding me in jail because I'm involved in political activism."

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

http://www.startribune.com


 

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