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Notes from Oregon Eco-Sabotage Plea Hearings

flies on the wall writes:

Notes from Oregon Eco-Sabotage Plea Hearings

Flies on the Wall

[Case background: ecoprisoners.org greenscare.org and cldc.org/green]

Today [Nov. 11, 2006] at the new federal courthouse in Eugene, Oregon, “Operation Backfire” defendants Joyanna Zacher, Nathan Block, Daniel McGowan and Jonathan Paul entered “guilty” pleas for several eco-sabotage related charges, as part of a global resolution agreement with prosecutors. Judge Ann Aiken presided over the hearings. The change of pleas from the four defendants resolves all current “Operation Backfire” cases in Oregon.

As part of this agreement, the four defendants have withdrawn their motion to obtain materials from possible National Security Agency surveillance. The global resolution agreement for the four defendants expressly indicates that Zacher, Block, McGowan and Paul accept their personal participation in crimes, but that these four have not and will not provide information on, inculpate or reveal the identities of anyone else. The four plea agreements are not sealed and are accessible to the public. The courtroom filled with supporters during these hearings; unfortunately, court staff turned away many additional people at the door. A press conference outside the court followed the four change of plea hearings.At 9:30, Joyanna Zacher was the first defendant to submit a changed plea. Zacher pled guilty to one charge of conspiracy, plus several charges of arson and attempted arson relating to property destruction at the Joe Romania Chevrolet car dealership in Eugene and the Jefferson Poplar tree farm. Zacher’s suggested sentence is 96 months, although issues such as a proposed “terrorism” enhancement will be argued during the actual sentencing hearing. (A hearing to set a date for sentencing hearings for all four defendants is currently set for December 14.) A written statement regarding Zacher was passed amongst the audience at the court, and is included at the end of this report.

Nathan Block pled to similar charges as Joyanna, and also received a suggested sentence of 96 months. In a moment that momentarily lightened the mood in the courtroom, Block responded “I’m glad you’re not going to” when asked to confirm that it was acceptable for assistant US Attorney Kirk Engdall to read only the sections that varied from Joyanna’s plea, instead of the entire lengthy text. For Daniel McGowan and Jonathan Paul, large segments of text were incorporated by reference rather than read aloud in their entirety.

Daniel McGowan entered a plea for one conspiracy charge plus multiple charges of arson relating to sabotage at Superior Lumber and Jefferson Poplar. McGowan’s suggested sentence is 96 months; as with all other defendants, it is assumed that he will challenge the “terrorism” enhancement of up to 20 years during his sentencing hearing.
At the end of his hearing, McGowan requested to read a statement. This was an emotional time for all those in court, as McGowan choked back tears and expressed his love for his family, his strongly held beliefs and his sorrow for any hurt that he caused. (McGowan’s statement is printed at the conclusion of this report.) McGowan’s lawyers requested that McGowan’s name be removed from Jonathan Paul’s “no contact” list so that the two could discuss without lawyers for each being present, which Judge Aiken accepted.

Finally, Jonathan Paul pled to one count of conspiracy and to one count of arson relating to an action against the Cavel West horsemeat slaughterhouse in Redmond, Oregon. At the end of this hearing, Paul’s lawyer requested that Paul’s no contact list not only be moderated for Daniel McGowan, but that it be lifted from Paul entirely. Judge Aiken declined to rule on this today, but instead stated that she would rule having received information from pretrial services and the US Attorney’s Office.

Outside of court, Amanda Lee and Jeff Robinson, lawyers for Daniel McGowan, gave a press conference. Following this, Jonathan Paul’s sister Alexandra read a statement about Paul, highlighting his commitment to environmentalism and an end to animal cruelty. Cecilia Storey, partner of grand jury resister Jeff Hogg, also gave an impromptu press statement, calling for the immediate end to Hogg’s imprisonment now that the Oregon cases are fully resolved.


The complete plea deals are now available online:
http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2006/11/348961.sh tml


Statement regarding Joyanna Zacher

Joyanna has agreed to a plea offer on the condition that she acknowledges what she has done, but she will not name or inculpate any other person. The plea agreement does not require testimony; Joyanna does not intend to testify against anyone.


Daniel McGowan's Statement to Judge Aiken at the plea hearing

November 9, 2006

Your Honor,

This plea agreement is very important to me, because it allows me to accept full responsibility for my actions and at the same time remain true to my strongly held beliefs.

I hope that you will see that my actions were not those of terrorist but of a concerned young person who was deeply troubled by the destruction of Oregon’s beautiful old-growth forests and the dangers of genetically modified trees.

After taking part in these two actions, I realized that burning things down did not fit with my visions or belief about how to create a better world. So I stopped committing these crimes.

This last year has been a very trying time for my family and I would like to extend my deepest love, admiration and appreciation to them for standing by me through a very difficult time. I would also like to apologize to the workers of the companies I targeted. I never intended to hurt people, so when I read about things like family photos being destroyed, I felt great remorse. I am truly sorry for the harm that I caused.

Your Honor, after May of 2001, I put myself back on the path of open and positive activism. Since then I have focused on helping victims of domestic violence, campaigning for the environment, and advocating for prisoners. While my commitment to pursuing a better world has not and will not change, I have changed the way I am pursuing those goals. My agreement with Mr. Paul, Mr. Block and Ms. Zacher to come together and resolve this case by taking responsibility for what we did is an important step in moving forward to have what I hope will be a positive impact on my community. Thank you for allowing me a few moments to speak to you this morning.


Post-Appearance Statement Regarding Jonathan Paul’s Guilty Plea

The hallmark of Jonathan Paul’s life is personal responsibility.

When he learned that mink were being inhumanely treated, he took it upon himself to infiltrate and expose that industry. When he learned of the cruelty being suffered by laboratory animals, he took it upon himself to liberate them. When old-growth forests were threatened with destruction, he put his body between the trees and the chainsaws. When the moratorium on whale-hunting was breached, he put himself between the hunters and the hunted. And when he saw that wild horses – the personification of the American spirit – were being cruelly slaughtered, he acted to stop the slaughter.

Mr. Paul’s guilty plea today, and the terms of the agreement that made it possible, are two more manifestations of his life-long commitment to personal responsibility. Mr. Paul alone is responsible for his decision to assault the Cavel West slaughterhouse. He appreciates the government’s recognition of this by allowing him to accept that responsibility without expecting him to blame or insisting that he implicate others.

When Mr. Paul saw the flames engulf the Cavel West slaughterhouse in Redmond, Oregon, he realized that fire was an unacceptable means to an end, no matter how compelling. He immediately abandoned arson as a valid way of making the mistreatment of animals unprofitable.

Mr. Paul has been, and will continue to be, a person deeply committed to the betterment of our society and the elimination of animal and human suffering. Since 1997, a major focus of his life has been fighting fire, qualifying as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician. Perhaps his greatest fear in acknowledging his responsibility for the arson at Cavel West is that it may disqualify him from continuing to serve in these ways.

Mr. Paul retains the hope that humans will embrace environmental sustainability and renounce animal cruelty and exploitation. He intends to continue to pursue these goals in an ethical and transparent way.