Back in 2001, Justin Solondz and Briana Waters were classmates and lovers. They lived in Olympia, attended The Evergreen State College, and built incendiary bombs in Waters' garage. In May that year, they and three others members of the Earth Liberation Front used the bombs to torch a University of Washington's horticultural facility. Some ELFers later confessed and agreed to rat out others. This year, so did Waters. Yesterday, with even his former lover lined up against him, Solondz gave up and confessed too.
FBI Justin Solondz
Now 32, Solondz plead guilty in Tacoma's U.S. District Court to charges of conspiracy and arson for building the firebomb - a device that ignited tubs of gasoline - which caused $6 million damage to the UW's Center for Urban Horticulture. As SW reported in 2008, contrary to what the firebombers believed, there was no genetic engineering going on in the UW biology professor's office they targeted.
The UW arson was one of a string of 17 fires set by members of the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front. Fourteen others were convicted of crimes related to the fires. Prosecutors claimed they caused an estimated $80 million damage, mainly to government property along the West Coast and in Colorado.
But while they may have believed in their radical cures, some also believed in saving themselves when caught. In the UW case, first to fold among members of the ELF cell known as "The Family" was arsonist Jennifer Kolar in 2005. In a plea deal for a three-year sentence, she named Waters as a co-conspirator, along with ELF ringleader Bill C. Rodgers who, shortly after his arrest, killed himself in his Arizona jail cell. Another co-conspirator, Lacey Phillabaum, admitted her role and agreed to testify against Waters; she got a five-year sentence.
Waters, who originally claimed she was home in bed when the UW arson took place, was convicted of the arson in 2008, and went to prison for more than two years before that decision was overturned in 2010. Facing renewed charges, she agreed in June to plead guilty and testify against Solondz.
He had been living under an assumed identity in China but, busted on a drug charge, was sent to prison there in 2009 and then expelled to the U.S. He was arrested and re-indicted here this year. Prosecutors say they'll recommend a seven-year prison term when he's sentenced next March.
In June, Waters, now a 35-year-old married mother of one, is also expected to be sentenced to her agreed-upon term, 48 months.
She will likely get credit for time served, and will not have to carry out her deal in full - at least not the part of someday facing her ex-lover in a courtroom and pointing the finger at him.
Perhaps she feels as Solondz does now - the past is the regretful past. Says his attorney Michael Nance: "I think that he does regret that this occurred. I think if he could rewind the clock, he would do things very differently."