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3 accused in 2001 UW arson

Indictments come just before statute of limitations expires

May 12, 2006 | Seattle Post-Intelligencer FBI agents and federal prosecutors say they have solved the 2001 firebombing by suspected ecoterrorists of the Center for Urban Horticulture at the University of Washington.

With just 10 days to spare before the five-year statute of limitations ran out, authorities obtained a grand jury indictment in U.S. District Court in Seattle on Thursday that identifies three suspects by name and refers to two other unnamed conspirators.

Accused of torching the center in the May 21, 2001, attack were Briana Waters, 30, of Berkeley, Calif., Justin Solondz, 26, of Jefferson County in Washington and William Rodgers, who killed himself in an Arizona jail after his arrest in December.

The indictment accuses the trio, along with two unnamed co-conspirators, with setting the facility ablaze under the belief that genetically engineered plants that they considered dangerous to the environment were being grown there. The fire destroyed years of botanical research. The UW spent $7 million to rebuild the facility.

One of the targeted scientists who worked at the center told the Seattle P-I that his research into poplar trees did not involve genetically altering them. Rather, Toby Bradshaw, whose lab was ground zero for the firebomb, was studying the genetics of hybrid trees that had been created through standard grafting techniques.

He said the most damning irony is that many endangered Northwest plants that a colleague had been growing at the center for reintroduction into the wild were destroyed by the fire.

Waters had previously been charged in the arson. Thursday's indictment brings a count of conspiracy to use firebombs to commit a series of arsons including the one at the UW center against Waters and adds Solondz, Josephine Overaker, 31, and Kevin Tubbs, 37, as co-conspirators.

Solondz, who is a fugitive and believed to be abroad, allegedly built a firebomb in Olympia the day before the UW blaze, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle. Waters is accused of possessing a firebomb on the day before the UW arson.

Overaker also is a fugitive and thought to be out of the country.

The indictment alleges that Rogers and his co-conspirators decided in 2000 to recruit more members and held secret meetings in Washington, Oregon, California and Arizona, where they decided to focus on fighting genetic engineering.

After selecting targets and providing instruction on how to build firebombs, Solondz is alleged in July 31, 2000, to have destroyed 5 acres of canola being grown by the Monsanto Corp. in Dusty in Eastern Washington.

In the winter of 2001, they allegedly held a secret meeting in Olympia and shortly thereafter, Solondz is alleged to have girdled the bark on 800 hybrid poplar trees at Oregon State University sites.

Tubbs and Overaker already have been charged in connection with an alleged eco-terrorist conspiracy in Oregon. Solondz already has been indicted in California in connection with the Oct. 22, 2001, arson of a federal wild horse and burro corral in Susanville, Calif.

If convicted, Waters and Solondz face a mandatory minimum term of 35 years behind bars.

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