Kevin P. Casey
Seven years ago, Briana Waters' attorney stood>"/>
UPDATE: Waters was sentenced this morning to four years in prison. Details on page 2.
Kevin P. Casey
Seven years ago, Briana Waters' attorney stood in front of a jury and aggressively defended his client as the victim of a wrongful and malicious persecution. Waters, attorney Robert Bloom said, was "completely innocent"--involved in neither the 2001 University of Washington arson of which she stood accused "or in any other arson." Actually...she was.
This morning, Waters will be sentenced for crimes she has at long last admitted. Those would be not one but two arsons committed in the name of radical environmentalism: the firebombing of UW--carried out with then boyfriend Justin Solondz, the subject of this week's cover story--and another that same year at a California horse farm.
Waters is actually being re-sentenced today. She was found guilty in 2008 of the UW arson, but had the conviction overturned on appeal. Facing a retrial, she accepted a plea bargain last year.
What does Waters finally have to say for herself? How does she account for years of lying to not only authorities but sympathetic activists and journalists who wanted to believe her?
A sentencing memorandum submitted on her behalf gives this explanation:
Her motivation was that she would do anything to avoid prison so she could be with her young daughter who was still a baby and completely dependent on her in every way.
Maybe that's fair enough. No parent wants to be separated from a child for a long stretch of time. Waters, like her cohorts branded a "terrorist, " was looking at possibly decades in prison.
Still, one can't help wanting Waters to more thoroughly and contritely account for the deception.
The government certainly isn't appeased. It wasn't just that Waters perjured herself at trial, prosecutors note in their sentencing memorandum, but that she accused the FBI of framing her.
Waters and her counsel appeared to be playing to an audience that is extremely skeptical of government and law enforcement. By falsely claiming to be innocent, and by making what she knows to be groundless claims of misconduct, Waters fueled perceptions of injustice...
In fact the largest ELF [Earth Liberation Front] arson in the state of Washington since the Center for the Urban Horticulture arson took place in Snohomish County, Washington, while the jury was deliberating in Waters' case.
That would be the torching of three Street of Dreams homes, a rare resurgence of a movement that largely imploded after the UW arson.
The government also accuses Waters of mounting "vicious attacks" against witnesses who testified against her. One, fellow arsonist Lacey Phillabaum, was portrayed by the defense as an "unprincipled slut" for supposedly sleeping with Solondz. As the trial transcript shows, Phillabaum denied it, but Bloom would not let up on the questioning, suggesting that it was her "M.O." to sleep with other women's boyfriends.
Now, Waters is the subject of vicious attacks. On activist websites, she is derided as a "snitch" for agreeing to testify against the boyfriend that once provoked such jealous claims. (She never had to testify, because Solondz pleaded guilty.)
She faces the court today as a 36-year-old violin teacher and single mom; her onetime partner took up with someone else while Waters was serving time after her 2008 conviction. Her sentencing memorandum says she looks "back at her life in 2001 with shame" and describes what she did as "motivated by peer pressure and youthful but misguided idealism."
According to the terms of the plea bargain, both she and the government are asking for a 48-month sentence, 37 months of which she has already served. She is seeking to serve the remaining time in a half-way house. The government is willing to accede to six months in a half-way house-- "but no more."
U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton gets to make the call.
UPDATE: As expected, Judge Leighton sentenced Waters Friday morning to four years in prison, all but 11 moths of which she has already served. He recommended she spend the last six months of her sentence in a half-way house--not the entire time, as Waters had hoped.
Despite a tearful apology from Waters, the judge upbraided her for her perjury and contriving with what he called a "smarmy lawyer"
See sentencing documents on next page.