Free and Critter: Trying Developments

\”There seems to be a conscious program underway to isolate and undermine Eugene\’s anarchist community. If history is any guide, this should be understood as the first step in an attack on activism overall. If Free and Critter are not defended, in the political arena as well as in court, we can only expect more trouble for progressive activists of all stripes.\” — Free and Critter\’s Legal Defense Committee

It has been a trying and emotional time here in Eugene, Oregon. As many of you know, our friends and fellow activists Jeffrey Luers, Free, and Craig Marshall, Critter, have been incarcerated since June 16, 2000. Both men plead \”not guilty\” to nine felony charges, including arson, and one misdemeanor. After a delay, both men\’s pre-trial arguments started November 8th. Once the jury was selected, two days of the trial ensued only to have everything thrown into disarray with terrible news. The Free and Critter Legal Defense learned that Monday morning, November 20th, Free\’s defense attorney, Ken Morrows, suffered a fatal heart attack! The confusion following this unprecedented turn of events has led to motions of severance, mistrial and new plea bargains from the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, Caren Tracy. Free\’s parents, here in Eugene for the trial, scrambled to the courthouse with members of the Legal Defense Committee to learn what may be in store for the trial, which was a long way from its close. No one seemed to know quite what to do. There has never been a case of a lawyer dying during their trial in Oregon. Mark Spence, a court-appointed attorney, was assigned temporarily to help Free through the transition. He moved for a mistrial. Brian Barnes, Critter\’s lawyer, moved to sever the cases allowing Critter\’s case to continue with the same jury. The judge decided to hear oral arguments Tuesday the 21st at 9:30am.

How was the trial going? The news has been bewildering and devastating to Free\’s family and support group. Despite early setbacks, many have felt that that momentum was building for the defense. The defense attorneys made several motions to suppress evidence from the searches of a warehouse and the car driven by Critter and Free the night that they were arrested. Objections were raised about a questionably obtained search warrant and items seized but not named on the warrant. Several cops testified. All the motions to suppress evidence were denied by the judge. Tuesday, November 14, jury selection started and took all day. It was a scary process that included the prosecutor arguing to keep people who admitted prejudice against anarchists and protests in general. Throughout the selection, Tracy kept emphasizing the need for people to be able to convict on circumstantial evidence and not just hard facts like eyewitnesses. Oregon State law gives both forms of evidence the same weight. Wednesday, November 15, jury selection continued. Twelve jurors were selected and two alternates, using 49 out of 50 in the jury pool. The jury consists of 9 men and 3 women, all of whom are white. After a lunch break, the jury took a bus trip to the warehouse where Free was staying and where the cops raided. They also went to the two sites in question; Tyree Oil Co. (where devices were found but no fires occurred) and the Joe Romania truck dealership (where a truck was burned and approx. $40,000 dollars of damage occurred). Thursday, November 16 began with opening statements. Tracy gave a very long, detailed argument laying out the prosecution\’s basic story. Morrow emphasized the difference between arson and criminal mischief. Barnes casually yet matter-of-factly mentioned the speculative nature of the prosecutor\’s case and the lack of one piece of hard evidence. The state then started calling witnesses including a manager at Tyree Oil, the site of one of the alleged arsons, a Eugene cop on the bomb squad, as well as one other cop and a detective who were involved in tailing Free and Critter\’s car. The prosecution tried to weave its circumstantial evidence together and scare the jury with stories of fires and explosions. The defense did a good job during cross-examination of pointing out holes in the prosecution\’s argument as well as questioning the integrity of the cops by exposing poor evidence gathering and tampering, misleading reports, dishonesty and bad memories. Friday, November 17 one juror said she felt intimidated by the defendants and was scared they may have seen her address. She was dismissed and replaced with a female alternate. Most distressingly she spoke about this to \”five or six\” of the other jurors. A juror was seen talking with a witness for the prosecution during a break trying to talk up a job, and reports are that one male juror keeps going on about the politics involved locally and in the case. All of this is very scary. The day continued with state witnesses, including more cops and an ATF agent involved in the raid and seizure of evidence. Also, a video of the warehouse was shown. Court was to resume Tuesday, November 21.

What\’s the latest? During the confusion the DA\’s office offered Free and Critter new plea bargains. Free was offered 156 months in prison and years of probation. In the deal Free would have to plead guilty to \”Arson 1\” and \”Conspiracy to commit arson\”. Free decided against the offer and because of publicity of the trial due to his lawyer\’s death, decided that a mistrial would be in his best interest.

After considering advice from his lawyer and friends and talking with Free, Critter decided to accept the deal offered to him. Critter did not agree to admit guilt but acknowledged that it was possible for the prosecutor to convict on the evidence. Critter was sentenced Wednesday, November 22 to 66 months in prison with three years probation for \”Conspiracy to commit arson\” charge as well as 6 months and two years probation for the \’Possession of a destructive device\” charge. They are to run concurrently. It also appears that Critter will be eligible for a \”boot camp\” after 11 months. After completing this 6-month boot camp Critter would be eligible for early release. His attorney noted that Measure 11 forces people to make decisions they don\’t want to make.

On January 31st, Free\’s defenders won a battle with Asst.DA Caren Tracy when Lane County Circuit Court Judge Lyle Velure ruled to allow Atty. Brian Barnes to continue to represent Free at trial. Trial date was set for April 3rd. After ordering both Free and Critter to consult with \’independent\’ counsel, Velure deemed that both men were sufficiently informed to waive their right to appeal on grounds of \’conflict of interest\’. Tracy contended that because Barnes had represented Critter in the original trial, that a potential for conflict of interest may arise in the future. Velure referred to Free and Critter as \’well-informed and intelligent young men\’ and vowed to see the trial occur in \’a timely manner\’. He did rule, however, that Free must have separate counsel to advise him on issues of conflict of interest during trial. Barnes agreed to pay for this extra attorney.

A message from the Free and Critter Legal Defense Committee

The friends and family of Free and Critter want to thank all of you sincerely for your interest in their case and for your many supportive actions. We are a community in the midst of a battle many of you have fought before. Many of you understand the loneliness of prison and the uncertainty of political trials. Some of you have experienced the stress, intense emotion and depletion of resources that occurs when activists become targets of repression from the state. Below are addresses where you may write Free and Critter and give them the support they really need right now. Also, if you have the ability to help friends and family offset very expensive legal costs, please send money. If you can\’t send letters or money, please consider working on a campaign for political prisoners near you. In solidarity, Free and Critter Legal Defense Committee

BACKGROUND on the CASE

On June 23, 2000, Jeffrey \”Free\” Luers and Craig \”Critter\” Marshall were indicted on nine felony counts and one misdemeanor. The charges were placed on the \”defendants acting together with others as yet unnamed,\” opening the door to a continuous investigation against activists in Eugene. There are serious suspicions about the motives of the state, the lack of evidence, and the accompanying media campaign to convict them in advance. On June 16 at 1:30 AM, Luers and Marshall were stopped by Springfield police for a \”routine traffic violation.\” (The car they were driving had a headlight out.) When Springfield police called in their licenses, the Eugene Police Department ordered them held. They were then turned over to the Eugene police and booked at Lane County Jail on charges of Criminal Mischief and Arson. The next day, the Eugene police told the media that Luers and Marshall were being held on suspicion of an arson at a Eugene car dealership, resulting in $40,000 in damage. They claimed the arson occurred at the time of the arrest and, contradicting the Springfield police, stated that Eugene police followed the suspects from the scene. On June 17, Eugene police obtained a warrant to search Luers\’ residence for specific items, including empty plastic containers, sponges, incense sticks, matches, rubber bands, paint, gasoline, and correspondence to the both of them. Another resident was detained and questioned for two hours. BATF was identified at the scene. Since that time, activists have reported continued surveillance of their homes and offices, by both the Eugene police and the FBI.

THE CHARGES Count 1: Class A Felony — Arson in the First Degree, for damage to Joe Romania\’s Truck Dealership. Count 2: Class A Felony — Arson in the First Degree, for reckless endangerment of damage to vehicles across the street from the dealership. Count 3: Class C Felony –Criminal Mischief in the First Degree, for damage to a motor vehicle. Count 4: Class C Felony — Unlawful Manufacture of a Destructive Device, for knowingly assembling a bomb with an incendiary device. Count 5: Class C Felony — Unlawful Possession of a Destructive Device Count 6: Class B Felony — Attempting to start a fire at Tyree Oil Company, putting life in danger. Count 7: Class B Felony — Same as Count 6, but names truck. Count 8: Class A Misdemeanor — Criminal Mischief. Count 9: Class C Felony — Manufacture of a Bomb. Count 10: Class C Felony — Possession of a Destructive Device Counts 1-5 relate to a fire on June 16th, at the Joe Romania Car Dealership in Eugene. Counts 1 and 2 fall under Oregon\’s Measure 11 Mandatory Sentencing Guidelines. They carry 70 months each. Counts 6-10 relate to an attempted arson on May 27th, at the Tyree Oil Company in Eugene.

1. PLEASE WRITE:

Jeffrey Luers (Free) #1206729 101 W. 5th Street Eugene, Oregon 97401 or Craig Marshall (Critter) c/o FCLDC, PO Box 50263, Eugene, Oregon 97405.

2. Organize a benefit and/or donate money for their legal defense, their jail fund for stamps and collect calls to jail support, so they can receive moral support from friends. If you are doing outreach in your area or publication, please let us know about it! The Free and Critter Legal Defense Committee can be reached directly at: c/o Eugene Peaceworks 454 Willamette Eugene, OR 97401 (we also have excellent t-shirts with pictures of Free and Critter and a quote from Free at this address. All proceeds go to the Legal Defense Fund. (Thanks to the Coalition Against Civilization for printing and donating the shirts!) Suggested donation $15 payable to the FCLDC. Note size, S M L XL)

3. PLEASE SEND MONEY TO: O.U.R. Credit Union C/o Free and Critter Legal Defense Fund P.O. Box 11922 Eugene, OR 97440.

4. Contact the defense fund at www.efn.org/~eugpeace/~freecritter

Derrick Jensen Speaks at Benefit for Free and Critter

On February 22, author Derrick Jensen spoke about his new work at the University of Oregon in Eugene. \’A Language Older Than Words\’, published by Context Books (publishers of Daniel Quinn\’s works, as well) is a groundbreaking look into the connection between our abuse of each other and our abuse of the planet, while also offering insight into how we can relearn the language of wild nature. The event was a fundraiser for the Northwest Earth Liberation Prisoners Support Network and jailed political prisoners Craig \’Critter\’ Marshall and Jeffrey \’Free\’ Luers. Both men are outspoken forest defenders being framed for two incidents of arson in Eugene.

In the book, Jensen says, \”There is a language older by far and deeper than words. It is the language of bodies, of body on body, wind on snow, rain on trees, wave on stone. It is the language of dream, gesture, symbol, memory. We have forgotten this language. We do not even remember that it exists.\”

Francis Moore Lappe, author of \’Diet for a Small Planet\’, says, \”Stunningly original, grippingly personal, this book will shock you to your core while at the same time quickening your deepest yearnings for reconnection with the Earth.\”

Context Books can be contacted for ordering information at www.contextbooks.com We encourage you to read this excellent book, and support Derrick who so generously offered his time (as well as proceeds from sales of his book at the event) to support of political prisoners.