September 15, 2010
Appellate court overturns conviction in 2001 UW arson
Posted by John de Leon
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned the conviction of Briana
Waters in the 2001 arson of the University of Washington's Center for Urban
The 34-year-old Californian was sentenced in June 2008 to six years in
federal prison and ordered to pay $6 million in restitution by U.S.
District Court Judge Franklin Burgess. A unanimous three-judge panel of the
Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that Burgess made several errors that
raised questions about the fairness of her trial, The Associated Press is
reporting. The panel said the judge should not have admitted certain
articles advocating violence as evidence, and should have done more to
ensure that news coverage of an unrelated arson did not influence the jury,
according to The Associated Press.
To read the ruling, click
Waters, a violin teacher, is one of five activists accused of the UW
arson, which prosecutors say caused more than $6 million in damage while
destroying rare plants, books and years of research. She was convicted of
two counts of arson, but not of other charges, including the use of a
destructive device in a crime of violence, which carried a 30-year
mandatory minimum sentence.
The Earth Liberation Front had targeted the UW office of Toby Bradshaw,
whom arsonists mistakenly believed was involved in genetically engineering
poplar trees that would pollute natural forests.
Waters was the first of 18 suspects indicted on charges of involvement in
the Earth Liberation Front, a militant Northwest underground group that
between 1996 and 2001 claimed it carried out more than a dozen acts of
arson and sabotage against targets deemed a threat to the environment or
animals. Damage was estimated in the tens of millions of dollars. Targets
included a slaughterhouse, timber-company headquarters and a ski lodge at
Lacey Phillabaum, 35, was sentenced to three years in prison and Jennifer
Kolar, 37, was sentenced to five years in prison for their roles in the UW
arson. Both Phillabaum and Kolar testified against Waters.
Also charged in connection with the arson were: William C. Rodgers, who
committed suicide in December 2005 while being held in an Arizona jail, and
Justin Solondz, 29, who is charged with arson and using a destructive
device in a crime of violence. Solondz is believed to be out of the