A federal judge has sentenced three animal rights activists to four to six years in prison and ordered them to help pay more than $1 million in restitution for inciting violence and terror against Huntingdon Life Sciences, a contract research organization in the U.S. and U.K. that has long been the target of militant animal rights groups. Three other defendants await sentencing within the next two weeks.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Anne E. Thompson in Trenton, NJ, sentenced Kevin Kjonaas, former president of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA Inc. (SHAC-USA), to 72 months in jail. Lauren Gazzola, SHAC-USA's former campaign coordinator, was sentenced to 52 months, while Jacob Conroy, who served as the group's coordinator and Web site manager, got 48 months. Each will be on three years of supervised probation after serving their terms. As the group's former leader, Kjonaas was ordered to serve a minimum of...
"On behalf of the dozens of victims whose lives were turned upside-down by the actions of these activists, we are gratified by these sentencings," Mike Caulfield, Huntingdon Life Sciences-USA (HLS-USA) general manager, told The Scientist.
Six SHAC members had been found guilty in March of various counts relating to animal enterprise terrorism, conspiracy, interstate stalking, and other crimes against employees and officers of HLS-USA in East Millstone, NJ. It was the first prosecution under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, a 1992 law that was expanded in 2002 to equate acts of harassment and intimidation with terrorism. Joshua Harper, SHAC's West Coast coordinator, who was found guilty of two counts, is scheduled to be sentenced today, while Andrew Stepanian and Darius Fullmer, who were each found guilty of one count, will be sentenced next week.
HLS victims testified their homes had been vandalized and their cars overturned. SHAC and its organizers routinely posted personal information about HLS employees on the Internet, including the names and ages of their children and where the children attended school. Defense lawyers unsuccessfully argued that the SHAC members had merely been exercising free speech.
Kjonaas's lawyer, Robert Stahl, said the convictions would be appealed. SHAC claimed on a Web site it runs about the trial that the case "is the latest in an onslaught of attacks against domestic dissedents (sic) under the guise of fighting terrorism" and "is intended to pave the way for further silencing of activists involved in all issues."
Jacquie Calnan, president of Americans for Medical Progress, a research advocacy group, told The Scientist that she is pleased with the sentences. "But we need additional legislation to cover future cases in which scientists, research companies, business partners, and their families can all be protected against a conspiracy of violence, such as this one was," she said.
Last week, Senators James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced a bill (S 3880) to expand protection for researchers by outlawing economic damage against "animal enterprises," which include organizations involved in academic and commercial research and testing. The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, as it is called, also provides a graduated scale of prison time and fines for those found guilty of harassing, intimidating, trespassing against or vandalizing the property of anyone associated with animal research.
"Our bipartisan legislation will provide law enforcement the tools they need to adequately combat radical animal rights extremists who commit violent acts against innocent people because they work with animals," said Inhofe, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which held two hearings on the topic this year. "This is terrorism and must not be tolerated," Inhofe said in a statement last week.
The new bill is a substitute for pending legislation (S 1926 and HR 4239), but has been amended to address free speech and other concerns. Similar in some ways to legislation regulating protests at abortion clinics, the new bill expressly protects such First Amendment activities as peaceful picketing, demonstrations, and "lawful boycotts" against animal enterprises. It also substitutes life imprisonment for the death penalty should an offense result in the death of an individual.
Inhofe and Feinstein are seeking to streamline passage of their new bill before Congress adjourns at the end of the month. An Inhofe aide told The Scientist that staffers plan to make the House and Senate versions of the new bill identical to avoid having to reconcile differences later.
Links within this article
Huntingdon Life Sciences http://www.huntingdon.com/
Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA http://www.shac7.com/updates.htm
T. Agres, "Animal rights activists found guilty," The Scientist, March 3, 2006. https://www.the-scientist.com/daily-news/animal-rights-activists-found-guilty-47736
Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992 http://www.nal.usda.gov/awic/legislat/pl102346.htm
The SHAC 7 http://www.shac7.com/case.htm
Americans for Medical Progress www.amprogress.org
Press Release: Inhofe-Feinstein Introduce Bi-Partisan Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act http://epw.senate.gov/pressitem.cfm?party=rep&id=262681
Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (Introduced in Senate) S. 1926 http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c109:s.1926:
Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (Introduced in House) HR 4239 http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c109:h.r.4239: