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June 22, 2012 at 10:14 AM

Last to be sentenced in UW horticulture center arson given 4 years in prison

A California violin teacher was sentenced this morning to four years in prison for her role in the $6 million arson at the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture in 2001.

Briana Waters, 36, who was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, was given credit for 37 months and will serve the remainder in a federal prison, possibly near her home in California. Both the defense and federal prosecutors had recommend the four-year sentence. Waters may be eligible to serve her last six months in a halfway house

Waters is the last member of a group who called themselves “The Family” to be sentenced for the UW firebombing. Earlier this year, her onetime boyfriend Justin Solondz, 32, was sentenced to six years in prison.

This was the second time Waters appeared before a federal judge for sentencing in the arson. In 2008, a jury convicted Waters of two arson charges and she was sentenced to six years in prison.

Waters appealed and in 2010 a federal appeals court — citing judicial misconduct — granted her a new trial. She was released from prison pending a new trial after serving 37 months.

A year ago, Waters struck a plea deal with federal prosecutors and pleaded guilty to charges of arson, conspiracy to use a destructive device, possessing an unregistered destructive device and the use of an explosive device in a crime of violence, a crime that could have sent her to prison for 30 years. Waters’ plea was part of a deal with federal prosecutors, who promised to recommend she serve no more time behind bars providing she cooperate with the government’s ongoing domestic-terrorism investigation into the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front.

When she entered her plea, Waters admitted she had lied under oath when she testified to her innocence during her 2008 trial. She said she was among a group of people who planted firebombs in the office of UW professor Toby Bradshaw at the Center for Urban Horticulture.

Bradshaw was targeted because they believed, mistakenly, he was genetically engineering trees.

Waters also admitted, for the first time, that she participated in the October 2001 arson at the Litchfield Wild Burro and Horse Corrals in Susanville, Calif. California prosecutors agreed not to charge her in that case as long as she continued to cooperate with federal authorities.

Waters is one of four activists convicted for their roles in the UW arson, which prosecutors say caused more than $6 million in damage while destroying rare plants, books and years of research. Prosecutors had said Waters helped procure a car and acted as a lookout.

Two other women, Lacey Phillabaum and Jennifer Kolar, pleaded guilty to the arson and were sentenced to three and five years, respectively. Both testified against Waters during her trial.

Also charged in the UW arson was William C. Rodgers, who committed suicide in an Arizona jail in December 2005.

A 1999 graduate of The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Waters was among a group who in 1999 perched in Douglas fir trees on Watch Mountain, near the Lewis County town of Randle. The tree-sitters refused to descend from their 150-foot-high perches until they received written assurance the land wouldn’t be traded to Plum Creek Timber.

Months later, the boundaries of the land exchange were reconfigured. About 28,000 acres — roadless lands and old-growth timber — were saved from logging.

Comments | More in The Blotter | Topics: arson, ecoterrorism, U.S. Attorney's Office

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