In final sentencing, judge upholds defendant's term.
A federal judge on Wednesday reimposed a four-year, three-month prison sentence on Jonathan Christopher Mark Paul, a longtime leader in the radical environmental movement and the last of 10 defendants indicted and sentenced in Eugene for conspiracy to commit arson to promote their views.
Paul's lawyer, Marc Blackman of Portland, disputed the sentence during a June 5 hearing, claiming the judge lacked authority or failed to follow the law to set the prison term. U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken set Wednesday's hearing to settle the matter. She ultimately refuted Blackman's objections and let her sentence stand.
Additionally, Aiken ordered Paul to read the best-selling book "Three Cups of Tea," and to write a book review for her before reporting to prison on Oct. 1. The book is a true account of Greg Mortenson's effort to combat terrorism by building 55 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Aiken also read a lengthy letter she received from Paul's co-defendant Stanislas Meyerhoff, who is serving a 13-year prison term - the longest meted to any in the conspiracy. Meyerhoff has repeatedly renounced violence, cooperated with authorities and pledged to work peacefully to help others and improve society. Meyerhoff's letter recounted his work teaching Spanish and English to fellow inmates.
Paul also has publicly renounced arson as a means to end animal suffering and environmental exploitation. He refused to name others in the conspiracy when he signed a plea deal to settle his case.
In court, Aiken challenged him to "walk the walk," and prove through his actions in prison and after his release that his stated commitment to nonviolence is true. She told Paul on Wednesday that Meyerhoff's letter and Mortenson's book are meant to inspire him to find his own ways of coming back into the community.
"Sentences have to be about giving people a chance to be held accountable by society and yet come back and be productive," Aiken told him. "I read that (Meyerhoff's letter) because he is walking a path you say you'll walk. And I expect the same."
Aiken has taken time during each of the 10 sentencing hearings to offer similar guidance tailored to each of the defendants in the conspiracy. She compared Paul's inherited wealth, intelligence, education and family support with the relative poverty and social obstacles Mortenson overcame to build schools in Asia.
"You can do far better than what you did," she told Paul.
In a public statement after court, Paul, 41, urged fellow activists to reject arson as a weapon in their fight.
In earlier statements he said he rejected arson after helping burn down the Cavel West horse meat packing plant in Redmond in 1997. He became a volunteer firefighter/medical technician and went on more than 2,000 calls in Southern Oregon - once treating a man whom he knew was a bear poacher, another time rescuing a three-week-old kitten on a highway.
On Wednesday he said arson defiles the belief that all life is sacred and violates the tenet of nonviolence embraced by the environmental movement. Even though no one has been injured in 25 years since the underground groups Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front first employed arson, Paul said fire can change that record in an instant and the risk is not acceptable.
Paul declined to take questions.
Blackman vowed to appeal Paul's sentence.
His objections involve the complex federal sentencing guidelines, court rulings that guide their application, the agreement among parties in the case to use guidelines that were in effect in 2000, and Paul's plea bargain.
Aiken meticulously addressed each of Blackman's claims, reciting her reasoning and citing court rulings behind her decisions.
She said she uniformly imposed the federal terrorism law in arsons clearly aimed at affecting or punishing government conduct. She noted she used her judicial power to impose a similarly longer sentence for arsons aimed at private individuals or companies, saying there is no practical difference between the two crimes when the motives are the same.
Aiken also said she gave great weight to plea deals hammered out between prosecutors and defense lawyers for all defendants, granting much lower sentences than called for. She reminded Paul that he could have gotten up to 10 years for his single crime.
As it turned out, Aiken gave Paul six months less than called for in his plea deal. Blackman sought a term of just over three years. Others in the conspiracy faced life terms because they were involved in many more arsons.
"The court is not treating Mr. Paul more severely than ... any other of the co-conspirators. Indeed, I am treating him the same," Aiken told Blackman.
Wednesday's hearing closes the major cases resulting from Operation Backfire, the name given the sweeping investigation of 20 arson crimes in five states over a five-year period that did well over $20 million in property damage.
One conspirator has a hearing Friday to challenge her sentence. Two relatively minor participants face sentencing in federal court in Washington state, where another is scheduled for trial next month. Four others remain fugitives.
The sentencing of Jacob Jeremiah Ferguson, a major participant whose cooperation led to the conspiracy's downfall, has not be scheduled. His plea deal reportedly is for probation and no jail time.