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Originally published June 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Violin teacher sentenced to six years in prison for UW arson

Briana Waters, a California woman convicted in March of assisting in the 2001 arson that destroyed the University of Washington's Urban Horticulture Center, was sentenced this morning to six years in prison.

Seattle Times staff reporters

TACOMA — Briana Waters, a California woman convicted in March of assisting in the 2001 arson that destroyed the University of Washington's Urban Horticulture Center, was sentenced this morning to six years in prison.

The defense had sought five years with three years suspended.

The government had sought 10 years behind bars.

At the sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Waters' attorney, Neil Fox, asked the judge to look at his client "not as a representative of the Earth Liberation Front, but as a person. Sometimes ... we get anesthetized to the human cost of incarceration."

Fox also argued that Waters is a mother of a 3-year-old and that it would be a hardship to be away from her child.

In his address to the court, Mark Bartlett, first assistant U.S. Attorney in Seattle, said Waters' sense of arrogance and entitlement in the case "would almost be comical if it wasn't so serious."

Before the sentence was read, Waters spoke to the court.

"I believe I am a valuable and contributing member of society," she said. "I don't want to be a martyr to any cause. My cause is to take care of my family."

When she spoke of her daughter, she burst into tears.

Federal prosecutors sought the 10-year sentence under a "terrorism enhancement" because they claimed the arson met the legal definition of a violent act "calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion," according to a court filing.

Defense attorney Fox has argued against the terrorism enhancement. He had asked that a five-year mandatory minimum sentence be partially suspended and proposed 18 months in prison for Waters' part in the arson.

Fox noted that his client was not convicted of being part of an Earth Liberation Front conspiracy — a charge that prosecutors sought unsuccessfully to prove, and claimed that the UW arson was not an act of terrorism.

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Waters, a violin teacher, maintained her innocence during her Tacoma trial.

She is one of five people alleged to have participated in the UW arson, which prosecutors say caused more than $6 million in damages to the university. She was convicted of two counts of arson, but not of other charges that included the use of a destructive device in a crime of violence, which carried a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence.

This was the first trial for any of the 18 men and women indicted on charges of involvement in the militant Pacific Northwest underground group that between 1996 and 2001 claimed it carried out more than a dozen acts of arson and sabotage against targets deemed a threat to the environment or animals. The attacks caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. Targets included a slaughterhouse, timber-company headquarters and a ski lodge at Vail, Colo.

Twelve other people have reached plea agreements, and, according to court documents, their sentences are expected to range from probation to 13 years in prison.

Those reaching plea agreements included two women — Jennifer Kolar and Lacey Phillabaum — who assisted in the UW arson, and were key witnesses for the prosecution at Waters' trial.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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