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Biotech / Medical : Life Sciences Research, Inc (LSRI)

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From: leigh aulper3/7/2006 10:00:00 AM
   of 22
Animal activists are guilty of incitement
First conviction under '92 federal law
Friday, March 03, 2006
Newhouse News Service
TRENTON -- In a case closely monitored by social activists and the industries they target, six animal-rights supporters were convicted yesterday of conspiring to harass, threaten and stalk associates of a New Jersey research laboratory.

The verdict by a federal jury marked a government victory in a trial that was as much a test of the limits of activism as it was a measure of criminal evidence.

The defendants were young adults who prosecutors said used the Internet to organize and incite a nationwide terror campaign against individuals doing business with or for Huntingdon Life Sciences, a firm that uses animals to test products for pharmaceutical companies.

Throughout the country, targets reported being stalked by bullhorn-wielding protesters in their neighborhoods or communities, receiving ominous phone calls, finding messages such as "Puppy Killer" painted on their driveways or seeing anonymous online postings of the names, ages and schools of their children.

The defendants, which also included their umbrella group, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty Inc., portrayed the charges as an infringement of their right to assemble and exercise free speech. And they contended there was no proof linking them to a crime.

But in their third day of deliberations, the panel of seven men and five women disagreed.

Convicted of conspiracy to commit animal enterprise terrorism and interstate stalking were Joshua Harper of Seattle, Andrew Stepanian of Huntington, N.Y., and Lauren Gazzola, Jacob Conroy and Kevin Kjonaas, who lived together in Pinole, Calif. A sixth defendant, Darius Fullmer of Hamilton, was found guilty only on the conspiracy charge.

In one corner of a courtroom packed with supporters, an audible gasp went up as the verdicts were read. Gazzola began crying; the other defendants shook their heads.

Acting on a request from prosecutors, Senior U.S. District Judge Anne Thompson immediately jailed all the defendants except Fullmer, though she agreed to consider bail. Most face at least three years in prison.

U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie hailed the verdict as one of national significance. "There is no place in a democratic, law-abiding society for extremists who incite or use violence and intimidation as a means to an end," he said.

The defendants and their lawyers declined to comment.

Pamela Ferdin, the group's new president, said she could not discuss the case but still pressed her cause with reporters: "I feel sorry for the animals right now being abused and tortured inside Huntingdon Life Sciences," she said. "Those animals get life without parole."

The activists were the first to be tried under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a rarely used 1992 statute Congress enhanced in recent years after concerns from the pharmaceutical industry.

One industry trade group praised the verdict yesterday, as did Huntingdon Life Sciences.

"The government and this jury have sent a strong message to those who would ignore the democratic process and resort to criminal activity to advance their political views," said Mike Caulfield, Huntingdon's general manager.

One of Europe's largest testing companies, Huntingdon, based in Great Britain, uses tens of thousands of rats, fish, monkeys and dogs each year to conduct federally mandated safety tests for drug makers and other clients at labs in England and Franklin Township, Somerset County. The animals are typically destroyed after the testing.

SHAC, as the animal rights group is known, launched its campaign after an activist took a job at a Huntingdon lab in England and secretly filmed footage of lab animals being beaten, deformed or otherwise abused.

Prosecutors in the case acknowledged they had no proof any of the defendants committed acts of terrorism, but they said Gazzola, Conroy and Kjonaas -- who once lived together in a house near the New Jersey lab -- controlled the group's Web site, organized the U.S. campaign and trumpeted harassment by others.

After the verdicts, the lead prosecutor, Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles McKenna asked the judge to order the group to purge names and personal data from the Web site.

During the trial, demonstrators held occasional peaceful rallies outside the federal courthouse, touting photos of caged animals and chanting slogans at passers-by. U.S. marshals added extra security at the courthouse, and the judge sealed the jurors' names from the public record.

Since their indictment in 2004, the defendants, most in their 20s, have become minor celebrities in activist circles. They banded together as "The SHAC 7," giving speeches and headlining fund-raisers.

Yesterday evening, they were led off together in handcuffs.
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