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Originally published Friday, June 22, 2012 at 8:45 PM

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Last ecoterrorist sentenced for UW horticulture arson

A California violin teacher was sentenced Friday to four years in prison for her part in the arson at the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture in 2001.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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TACOMA — A California violin teacher was sentenced to four years in federal prison by a U.S. District Court judge in Tacoma for her role in the $6 million arson at the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture in 2001.

With credit for three years already served, Briana Waters, 36, will spend nearly another year in prison.

Waters, who tearfully apologized and asked for mercy from the judge, was the last member of a group of ecoterrorists who called themselves "The Family" to be sentenced for the UW firebombing. The arson destroyed a library of rare books on horticulture and a collection of endangered-plant species.

"I have so much regret and remorse for my actions," said Waters, who cried while speaking and after the hearing.

This was the second time Waters appeared before a federal judge for sentencing in the arson. She was sentenced to six years in prison after she was convicted of two arson charges during a jury trial in which she maintained her innocence and claimed she had been framed by federal agents.

In 2010, Waters appealed in federal appeals court — citing judicial misconduct — and was granted a new trial. She was released from prison pending a new trial after serving 37 months.

A year ago, Waters struck a plea deal with federal prosecutors and pleaded guilty to charges of arson, conspiracy, possession of an unregistered destructive device and the use of an explosive device in a crime of violence, which could have sent her to prison for 30 years.

In exchange, both prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to ask for a four-year sentence, providing she cooperate with the government's ongoing domestic-terrorism investigation into the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front.

When she entered her plea, Waters admitted she had lied under oath when she testified to her innocence during her 2008 trial.

During the sentencing hearing Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton said he was deferring to the attorneys' recommendations. However, he scolded Waters and said he had grave and serious concerns about her conduct at her previous trial.

Lying on the stand, he said, "is as profound and serious" a crime as her earlier actions.

"You've got a right to go to trial, but you do not have a right to contrive with a smarmy lawyer... ," Leighton said. "I take deep umbrage to what you did because you were no longer a child and you have had a corrosive effect on the respect for the law."

Waters and her conspirators planted firebombs in the office of UW professor Toby Bradshaw at the Center for Urban Horticulture because they incorrectly believed he was genetically engineering, or altering, species of trees.

A second fire, to which Waters also admitted participation, was set in October 2001 at the federal Bureau of Land Management's Litchfield Wild Horse and Burro Facility in California. Prosecutors there agreed not to charge her in that case, as long as she continued to cooperate with federal authorities.

Waters is one of four activists convicted in the UW arson, which prosecutors say caused more than $6 million in damage, while destroying rare plants, books and years of research. Prosecutors had said Waters helped procure a car and acted as a lookout.

Her former boyfriend, Justin Solondz, 32, was sentenced to six years in prison earlier this year.

Two other women, Lacey Phillabaum and Jennifer Kolar, pleaded guilty to the arson and were sentenced to three and five years, respectively. Both testified against Waters during her trial.

Also charged in the UW arson was William Rodgers, who committed suicide in an Arizona jail in December 2005.

A graduate of The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Waters was among a group who in 1999 perched in Douglas fir trees on Watch Mountain, near the Lewis County town of Randle. The tree-sitters refused to descend from their 150-foot-high perches until they received written assurance the land wouldn't be traded to Plum Creek Timber.

Months later, the land exchange was reconfigured. About 28,000 acres — roadless lands and old-growth timber — were saved from logging.

While Waters may be eligible to serve the last six months of her sentence in a halfway house, she will remain under federal supervision for three after her release.

She and her other co-conspirators will be paying restitution probably for the remainder of their lives, said U.S. Assistant District Attorney Andrew Friedman.

"This was an incredibly serious crime," he said.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464- or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report, which includes information from Times archives.

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