Friday, September 17, 2010

And now for something completely different

In 2001, the Earth Liberation Front set fire to the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture. In 2008, Briana Waters was tried on a charge of abetting the crime by serving as a lookout during the operation. She maintained her innocence but was convicted largely on the testimony of two women in the group who decided to cooperate with prosecutors. She was sentenced to six years in prison and $6 million in restitution.

Now, however, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned her conviction, concluding that the trial judge, one Franklin Burgess, made several errors that cast doubt on the fairness of the trial.

One of those was allowing jurors to see some inflammatory articles advocating violence against targets such as Wall Street and Disneyland which Waters had supposedly passed on to someone in the group - and at the same time refusing to let them see a documentary advocating nonviolent protest that Waters began two years before the arson occurred.

What's more, during deliberations, the ELF claimed responsibility for torching a newly-built mansion. After news coverage suggested a link between that and Waters' trial, Burgess questioned the jury as a group to ask if anyone had been influenced by the coverage - when he should have polled them individually.

The reason I noted this case is that I commented on it once before, back in April 2008, at which time I noted that the FBI's own records clearly indicated that the agency pressured the two cooperating defendants into naming the "possibly innocent" Waters as part of a plea deal. So her release does please me and I hope prosecutors will decide against re-trying her.

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