TACOMA, Wash. - A federal jury has found a woman guilty of two counts of arson for being the lookout in the 2001 burning of the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture by members of the radical Earth Liberation Front.
U.S. District Judge Franklin Burgess declared the jury deadlocked on three other counts Thursday against Briana Waters, including conspiracy, possessing an unregistered destructive device and, the most significant count, using a destructive device during a crime of violence. The final charge would have carried a mandatory minimum of 30 years in prison.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Bartlett said his office would decide within a week whether to retry her on the deadlocked counts.
"She was an integral part of one of the most significant arsons ever to occur in this district," Bartlett said in court Thursday. "All she has shown is an incredible inability to deal with her own actions."
Waters was taken into custody pending a detention review next Wednesday. Her sentencing was set for May 30. The 32-year-old violin teacher from Oakland, Calif., faces at least 5 years and up to 20 years in prison. She closed her eyes, bowed her head and cried as the verdict was announced, and her mother sobbed quietly.
One juror who declined to give his name told The Associated Press the fact that Waters has a 3-year-old daughter weighed on the deliberations. Waters referred repeatedly to the girl when she took the stand and maintained her innocence.
"It was clearly emotional," the juror said. "At the time, she didn't have a daughter, but now she does."
He declined to comment further except to say that on the remaining counts, "It wasn't close one way or the other."
The fire, which destroyed the plant research center, was one of at least 17 fires set from 1996 to 2001 by an Olympia, Wash., and Eugene, Ore., cell of the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front. A professor whose research was destroyed, Sarah Reichard, testified that the arson had devastated her, turning her from someone who backpacked alone in South America to someone who cowered in her home when a Greenpeace volunteer came to the door.
Two women who pleaded guilty in the fire testified against Waters, and rental car records suggested she obtained a vehicle used in the crime. Her lawyer, Robert Bloom, insisted during closing arguments that the women, Lacey Phillabaum and Jennifer Kolar, lied on the witness stand in an attempt to frame her and win lighter sentences.
The other two alleged participants in the UW fire were William Rodgers, who committed suicide soon after his arrest, and Justin Solondz, Waters' boyfriend at the time, who remains at large. Prosecutors said Solondz constructed the incendiary devices used in the fire in a clean room behind Waters' home in Olympia.
Bartlett argued that Phillabaum and Kolar had no reason to identify Waters falsely, and their accounts were corroborated by physical evidence.
Bartlett portrayed Waters as an environmentally concerned student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia who became convinced that "direct action" was the best way to protect the Earth and change corporate behavior.