Judge Rejects Accused Ecoterrorist's Argument that Arson is Nonviolent

A judge this week refused to throw out charges accusing William Jensen Cottrell, 24, of using a destructive device in a violent crime. Cottrell is accused of setting fire to more than 100 sports utility vehicles at a California dealership on behalf of the Earth Liberation Front.

Cottrell was arrested in the crime after an e-mail was sent to the Los Angeles Times complaining that the man originally arrested for that crime, Josh Connole, had no role in the crime and claimed the crime for the Animal Liberation Front. Connole was released three days after his arrest.

That e-mail was traced back to a Caltech computer laboratory. Records of security cards used to gain access to the lab allowed police to narrow down the suspects and eventually to the arrest of Cottrell.

Cottrell is charged with arson, conspiracy to commit arson and the use of a destructive device in a violent crime. Cottrell’s lawyer filed a number of motions trying to convince the judge to dismiss the last charge, including one claiming that arson is not an inherently violent crime. The judge disagreed, ruling that the crime was clearly one of violence.

Why the focus on one charge? Using a destructive device in a violent crime is a federal felony that carries a mandatory minimum of 30 years in jail.

One of Cottrell’s attorneys, Michael Mayock, said that he believes prosecutors are adding that charge in an effort to force Cottrell to agree to a deal. So far, though, according to Cottrell, prosecutors have not offered Cottrell a plea deal.


Judge denies accused eco-arsonist’s request. NBC 4 TV, August 2, 2004.

Student to seek lesser charge. Pasadena Star-News, July 31, 2004.

SUV arson suspect will face charge. Jessica Gresko, Associated Press, August 2, 2004.

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