Woman Found Guilty Of Arson in 2001 University of Washington Fire
By Mike Carter
A 32-year-old violin teacher from California was found guilty this morning of two counts of arson for the 2001 fire at the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture. A federal jury found that Briana Waters, a former Olympia resident, was among a group of ecosaboteurs who torched the center in the predawn hours of May 21, 2001, causing about $1.5 million in damage.
The center was later rebuilt at a cost of about $7 million. Waters faces at least five years in prison for each count of arson.
But the jury, which had been deliberating since Friday afternoon, couldn't reach a verdict on three other counts, including the most serious that would have resulted in a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison.In all, Waters faced five counts: two counts of arson, one count of conspiracy and two charges stemming from the possession and use of a homemade time-delayed gasoline bomb used to start the fire. Use of the device in a crime of violence carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison. The Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility for the fire because it believed, mistakenly, that a UW researcher was genetically engineering trees.
Late Wednesday, jurors sent a note to U.S. District Judge Franklin Burgess that indicated they were unable to reach a unanimous decision on all counts and asked how to proceed. The judge asked the jurors if they had reached unanimous verdicts on at least some of the charges, and the jurors responded "Yes."
Prosecutors urged the judge to accept whatever verdicts had been reached, but Burgess refused and sent the jury home Wednesday night. Burgess this morning agreed to accept the partial verdict. The trial in U.S. District Court in Tacoma unfolded over three weeks, with jurors hearing contradictory testimony from Waters and some of the people who participated in the arson. Two women who had earlier pleaded guilty to the attack testified that Waters was an accomplice, while Waters acknowledged friendships with some of those accused of the Earth Liberation Front sabotage, but denied participating. The government alleged that Waters helped rent a car used by the arsonists and stood lookout while others set the device.
On Monday, the jurors' first full day of deliberations, arsonists destroyed three multimillion-dollar homes in Snohomish County and damaged a fourth in what federal officials are investigating as crimes that may be linked to the Earth Liberation Front. Burgess called jurors into the courtroom Monday morning to ask if any of them had read or heard news of an event that might cause them to be unable to continue deliberations, a reference to the arsons. No one withdrew. Defense attorneys made an unsuccessful motion for a mistrial.
The trial was the first to result from a lengthy federal investigation into a series of high-profile arsons at a ski resort, wild-horse corral, a slaughterhouse, timber-company offices, the UW and other targets. The militants who carried out these actions claimed credit on behalf of the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front. Eighteen people were eventually indicted on charges involving one or more of attacks, as well as what federal prosecutors claim was a broader conspiracy in attacks that caused tens of millions of dollars.
Twelve of those indicted opted to strike plea deals, with sentences ranging from probation to 13 years in prison. Four others fled and a fifth — Bill Rodgers, an alleged ringleader — committed suicide after being taken into custody.