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Arson attacks ruled terrorism.

Byline: Bill Bishop The Register-Guard

CORRECTION (ran May 25, 2007): Stanislas Meyerhoff was convicted of conspiracy and 59 counts of arson and other crimes in seven incidents. A federal judge ruled that three of those incidents were acts of terrorism. Stories on Tuesday on Thursday gave incorrect numbers.

Ruling that arson attacks on a police office, an SUV dealership and a tree farm were acts of terrorism, a federal judge on Wednesday imposed a 13-year prison term on Stanislas Gregory Meyerhoff, the first of 10 defendants to be sentenced in the nation's largest-ever investigation of radical underground environmental activists.

The sentence is about 2 1/2 years less than the government offered Meyerhoff in a plea deal that rewarded his cooperation in the investigation. But U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken said prosecutors did not give Meyerhoff enough credit for "doing the right thing" after his arrest in December 2005.

Nevertheless, she told Meyerhoff he should "count his lucky stars" that the government offered him a plea deal. Aiken calculated his potential sentence at 30 years to life. Had prosecutors pursued all possible charges, they earlier estimated he could have faced a minimum of 230 years.

"The message to the community is we will not tolerate acts of violence to affect public debate," Aiken said.

Addressing Meyerhoff, Aiken said she completely rejects Meyerhoff's contention that his crimes were not for personal gain. Instead, she concluded he did them to gain acceptance into a group. She said it is foolish to believe that setting fire to SUVs in Eugene, or burning small timber companies, will improve environmental conditions.

She chastised Meyerhoff for sullying the image of legitimate environmental activists who seek to persuade through information and education rather than through fear and intimidation.

Aiken asked Meyerhoff if he realized how it must have affected employers, workers and their families when their livelihoods were interrupted by anonymous arsonists who threatened further harm in the night if they did not change their legal operations.

She described the series of arsons as a "systematic use of terror" that could trigger harsher treatment either under the federal terrorism statute or under a federal judge's discretion to exceed normal sentencing guidelines.

In Meyerhoff's case, Aiken increased his potential sentence before giving him credit for cooperating, which ultimately lowered his proposed sentence.

A label of "terrorist" also means he could spend time in one of the nation's harshest, high-security federal prisons.

`It was only dumb luck no one was injured or killed. It wasn't because of any `careful planning,' ' Aiken said.

To arrive at the sentence, Aiken said she accounted for Meyerhoff's youth and immaturity when he took up with the secretive cell of activists who called themselves "The Family." But she said those factors "only go so far" in lessening his responsibility for the crimes.

She told Meyerhoff about other young people who had picked themselves up after making decisions that led to prison, and then went on to become contributing members of society. She noted that Meyerhoff had been in school and moving in the right direction before his arrest. She encouraged him to use his prison time to help other inmates do the same.

Acknowledging testimony about the violence and sexual abuse that befall "snitches" and first offenders in prison, Aiken said she will write letters to prison officials to attempt to ensure his safety. However, she said none of the reduced sentence is linked to potential prison conditions - which she called a separate issue that should be addressed more broadly as a matter of public stewardship over inmates.

Aiken urged Meyerhoff to continue showing the courage that it took for him to cooperate in the investigation, and she said she reduced his sentence to recognize that contribution.

"You have demonstrated true courage, true courage, in stepping up and telling the truth. Before, you acted as a coward, acting in the dead of night," she said. "In this court, that matters."

The sentence came after hundreds of pages of legal briefs and almost three days of court hearings about the many arsons Meyerhoff admitted to, and whether they merit harsher punishment under the federal terrorism sentencing enhancement law.

Aiken earlier ruled that she would consider each defendant separately, although they all pleaded guilty to the same conspiracy. She said the terrorism statute could apply individually, if prosecutors prove by clear and convincing evidence in each case whether the defendant acted with intent to influence government actions through intimidation, coercion or retaliation. She also indicated she would use judicial discretion, if appropriate, to adjust sentences.

In the September 2000 arson attempt at a Eugene police substation near campus, the attackers issued a notice that the act was in retaliation for police actions against anarchist demonstrators. Aiken said the crime clearly fit the definition of terrorism.

In the March 2001 arson of 35 SUVs at the former Romania Truck Center in Eugene, the attackers' notice said they were punishing the state's arrest and prosecution of Jeffrey Luers, who earlier committed arson at the site and claimed it was for an environmental cause, Aiken noted.

In the May 2001 arson at Jefferson Poplar Farm near Clatskanie, the attackers' notice taunted Washington and Oregon lawmakers for stricter new laws against their actions. Aiken ruled that the message proved intent to influence government action, making it a crime of terrorism.

In three other arsons Meyerhoff was charged with, notices did not express a direct link to government activities, Aiken said. In a fourth, prosecutors did not seek a terrorism ruling.

The sentencing hearings continue today with the case of Springfield resident Kevin Tubbs, 38. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy and to 53 counts of arson in eight incidents - including the destruction of the Oakridge Ranger Station in 1996 and the attacks on the police station, SUV lot and tree farm - and other crimes.

Prosecutors are recommending a sentence of 14 years.

OPERATION BACKFIRE

Sentenced: Stanislas Gregory Meyerhoff, 29; guilty of conspiracy, 51 counts of arson in six incidents, eight counts of arson that were labeled terrorist acts; sentenced to 13 years

ON THE WEB

To read Meyerhoff's statement, go to www.registerguard.com/ meyerhoff.php
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Title Annotation:Courts; A judge sentences an environmental activist to 13 years for a string of crimes, but gives him credit for cooperating
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 24, 2007
Words:1026
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