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Tuesday, May 9, 2006 - Page updated at 09:29 AM

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A case study: Sentencings in arsons hinge on motive, method

When it comes to the federal crime of arson, motivation matters.

Stanislas Meyerhoff and Kevin Tubbs are accused of setting fire to 35 vehicles at a Eugene, Ore., dealership along with other crimes as part of a broader conspiracy on behalf of the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front.

If the two are convicted at trial, prosecutors hope to convince a U.S. District Court judge that terrorism was a motive. If they do, sentencing guidelines recommend roughly doubling the minimum prison term from five to 10 years.

Prosecutors have another hammer to wield: Setting a fire with jugs of gasoline and timers that form a fire bomb can lead to "use of a destructive device" charges. That crime carries a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence — or life imprisonment without parole for a second offense.

The law, which has a five-year statute of limitations — applies to 2001 crimes. At least six defendants allegedly involved in the ELF and ALF arsons have been charged with use of a destructive device.

Two of those — Tubbs and Meyerhoff — allegedly used incendiary bombs to carry out the March 2001 dealership arson, and also joined in a second arson attack at an Oregon poplar farm. So, both face life imprisonment if convicted on these two counts.

The destructive-device law "is a great incentive for people to negotiate these cases," said Andrew Bates, a defense attorney whose client struck a deal in an ELF-linked crime.

Meyerhoff and Tubbs are cooperating with prosecutors, according to court statements and court documents.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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