Report from Sentencing for Nathan Block and Joyanna Zacher, 6/1/07
On Friday, June 1, in Eugene federal court, Judge Ann Aiken sentenced Nathan Block and Joyanna Zacher. Judge Aiken agreed to sentence both defendants together in one hearing. Both received 92-month (7 years, 8 months) sentences.
Presenting: Kirk Engdall for the federal government
Engdall began by recounting the history of activism by Nathan and Joyanna. He said that in the Spring of '99 the two met in Seattle, WA preparing for the anti-World Trade Organization protests there. Zacher also met Bill Rodgers, Suzanne Savoie and Lacey Phillabaum in Seattle during this time period.
Nathan Block grew up in Maine, but studied at Evergreen in Olympia, WA and did took out loans thinking that he would not have to repay them because anarchy would prevail and the world was going to end anyway. During the anti-WTO protests, Nathan packed his bag with rocks and acting alone threw rocks at police and windows.
During the WTO confrontation, Joyanna joined the black block. She also was involved with planning an action at Cargill. She failed in an attempt to steal a license plate for the action and the plan was abandoned because of police contact. During the protests, Joyanna was arrested while acting with "the black block vandals" and released a flyer touting the actions of the WTO protest anarchists that claimed that Seattle was "just a beginning."
The following year Nathan and Joyanna went to Joshua Tree, CA for an Earth First! rendezvous and there participated in "circles" with Rodgers to discuss property destruction. Engdall stated that these "circles" were precursors to the "Book Club" meetings.
In March of 2000, they attended their first "Book Club" meeting which coincided with the Environmental Law Conference in Eugene, OR. At the meeting they used fake names and participants were given "clean" instructions on incendiary devices. "Clean" in this sense meant that the instructions were prepared wearing gloves, so that they had no trace evidence. At the meeting, Joyanna was criticized for her dress (black pants, camo vest and dreadlocks) because her appearance could draw unwanted attention. Nathan was invited to the meeting by Joyanna but was never fully accepted because of "arrogant attitudes."
In the second "Book Club" meeting, held later the same year in Tucson, AZ, incendiary devices were discussed as well as security. An email account was set up for communication and a code book was introduced. Following the meeting an anti-genetic engineering action was carried out against Monsanto in Washington State in August. Sickles, scythes and hands were used for the decontamination.
The following month, Bill Rodgers, Nathan and Joyanna traveled from Olympia to Santa Cruz for another "Book Club" meeting. On the way, Rodgers stopped in Eugene to make a pot drop-off. In Santa Cruz, the meeting took place in a motel room by the beach. A primary topic was the construction of timing devices and the use of "clean rooms." Joyanna was responsible for food, so shoplifted an entire cartful and returned to the motel room to share the "booty." Nathan went by "Hasan" during the three-day meeting and jokes were made about making a movie of the cell, and which actors they would get to play themselves.
In January of 2001, the fourth "book club" meeting took place in Olympia, where Rodgers' alleged sexual assault of a woman at the Earth First! Rendezvous was heatedly discussed. This was Bill Rodgers last appearance at "book club" meetings.
The following month, Nathan and Joyanna participated in a tree spiking action at the Judie timber sale in the Umpqua National Forest. Over 180 trees were spiked, low and high. A communiqué was issued. In March 2001, they participated in actions at Oregon State University's genetic research facility in Corvallis, Oregon, and at Klamath Falls, Oregon facility in which GE trees were girdled (the bark stripped to destroy the cambium layer) in order to kill them.
Meyerhoff participated in the decontamination, and asked Nathan to participate in an arson at Romania Chevrolet in Eugene. Joyanna was invited later. Devices for the arson were constructed in Olympia at Nathan and Joyanna's residence and in a nearby forest. Before the arson, Nathan, Joyanna and Bill Rodgers performed reconnaissance. On the evening of the action, Joyanna and Tubbs acted as lookout while Nathan and the others placed the devices. Driving away from the scene, Nathan observed the cars starting to catch fire and commented that it looked like something from a comic book. He joked during his government debrief that he "was in it for the adventure". Nathan had only one offering for the communiqué, which was, "The time is right. Fight back."
After Romania, Joyanna was asked to join another group of all women in Northern Idaho to plan an action against the Potlatch Company. Joyanna performed recon and the action was called off due to police driving by. The lookout failed to notice the police car, and Joyanna called the action off due to lax security.
Meyerhoff then recruited Nathan and Joyanna for the "Double Whammy" arsons at Jefferson Poplar and the University of Washington. The team met in Olympia, and performed a "dry run" the week before the action. The timing devices were stored at Nathan and Joyanna's house. On the night of the arsons, Joyanna acted as lookout, Savoie was both lookout and driver, while the others placed the devises. Afterwards, all returned to Olympia where an argument took place about devices they thought may have failed. Engdall said that Lacey Phillabaum had expected the firefighters at the UW fire the same night to quell the fire before it spread to the rest of the building. Two communiqués were issued which Engdall said made threats to the state government, qualifying this action for the terrorism enhancement.
In June, 201, Meyerhoff, Gerlach, Kolar, Savoie, Phillabaum, Nathan and Joyanna traveled to Sisters, Oregon for the final "book club" meeting. At the meeting, some participants discussed moving things to "the next level", meaning violence against corporate leaders. This provoked dissention among the group. Gerlach reports that Nathan did not advocate violence at what turned out to be the last meeting. Engdall said that in the past, Nathan and Joyanna had participated in target practice with Bill Rodgers, but that during debriefing, Joyanna had said the practice was a "trust-building" exercise" and not about targeting people.
In Olympia, Nathan started a marijuana growing operation that coincided with Rodgers shutting down his own. After the December 7th, 2005 arrests, cooperating witnesses eventually revealed Nathan and Joyanna's true identities. ON February 23, 2006, they were arrested following a house raid. Documents and CDs seized showed a continuing interest in illegal direct action.
Engdall then showed a Power Point presentation with slides of their mugshots and monikers. Engdall claimed that Joyanna was not close to her family, but that while in jail she spoke to her mother asking for money and admonishing her mother not to speak to the authorities. Also, Nathan Block was described as a "freelance vandal" at the WTO protests in Seattle. A video clip of news coverage was seized during the raid on their home, and shown to the court. The KIRO TV news broadcast showed a sensationalized account of the "Anarchist Rampage" in Seattle. Then Joyanna's "Seattle is Just the Beginning" flier was displayed. The text of the flier criticized the Direct Action Network, but hailed Seattle as a victory. A chronology of "Book Club" meetings was presented, followed by slides of the Romania Chevrolet arson and the text of the communiqué, which Engdall said had coercive language, intended to influence Lane County Court in its actions against Jeffrey Luers, qualifying this action for the terrorism enhancement. Then Jefferson Poplar slides were shown, the damage displayed and text of the communiqués. Images were shown from the February 23, 2006 raid on their Olympia residence, which Engdall described as a "typical drug house" with a kitchen he aid was "a mess". Photos of the grow operation were shown, as well as an envelope addressed to "Exile" an address book with Justin Solondz's last known address in it.
In a weird tangent, Engdall displayed a slide of the CD jacket for Industrial Noise ACT Militia, which was at the house. In it was a poem, which Engdall read and included the lines "to hell with property, to hell with the State". The CD package also stated, "Support the Animal Liberation Front".
The next slide described criminal acts by Nathan and Joyanna that they were not being charged for, including the GE actions, the marijuana grow operation and the Judie tree spiking.
Engdall then set forth the government's sentencing recommendations. Downward departures were appropriate for the global plea agreement taken with Paul and McGowan, but that Nathan and Joyanna differ from the cooperating defendants including Kolar and Phillabaum who gave complete and detailed information, and agreed to testify. He pointed that Stanislas Meyerhoff had even agreed to testify in "other matters." By contrast, Engdall said that Nathan and Joyanna had refused to fully cooperate, were protecting the identity of co-conspirators, and wanted to be known as "activist martyrs." The two agreed to plead guilty only after six others had agreed to testify. Engdall further added that Joyanna's activity reflected anarchist principles and "principles of violence". He noted Nathan's literature of "anarchy and violence." He stated that they were in it simply for the "adventure" and not for the environment, and recommended a 92-month sentence for each of them.
Bill Sharp, counsel for Joyanna Zacher, follows:
On the WTO showdown, Sharp notes that his client was arrested two hours before the rioting as displayed in footage began. Sharp also stressed that the firearms practice occurred well before the "Book Club" meeting in which escalating tactics was approached; no link existed between the target practice and the discussion topic. Sharp also pointed out that there was no continuous lawbreaking between '99 and '06. His client sometimes grew pot, which is not great, but that following Jefferson Poplar she extracted herself from every sort of activism, legal and illegal.
Sharp made three requests on behalf of his client:
1) That Joyanna be placed in FCI Dublin in California, where she could stay in contact with friends and family.
2) That a letter of recommendation be sent to the Bureau of Prisons, suggesting that Joyanna not be classified as "high security."
3) That interest on restitution be waived for the duration of her incarceration.
Sharp expected that Nathan's lawyer would join in requests 2 and 3 for his client.
Sharp then urged the court to take an objective look at the comparison between Nathan and Joyanna, and the other defendants who had already been sentenced. He used many charts to present a statistical analysis of Nathan and Joyanna's action compared to the others. He pointed out that Nathan and Joyanna had come into the conspiracy late, and were only involved in cell arsons from March - May 2001. Sharp argued that by agreement with the government, the sentences for Nathan and Joyanna were to be linked to the sentence from Suzanne Savoie, who was involved at a comparable level. Aiken then interjected that such was the agreement with the government, but that she did not need to adhere to that.
Sharp went on to state that Nathan and Joyanna had accepted full responsibility for their actions. Their pleas would help to break the "log jam" in the federal court prosecution and also avoid costs.
He said that Nathan and Joyanna were not part of "The Family." The two had never heard or used that term. Others in the conspiracy referred to them as "The punk kids" to be used in arsons by the more experienced. Sentencing guidelines state that planners should be penalized, but Nathan and Joyanna did not plan the actions. Regarding the terrorism enhancement issue, Nathan and Joyanna's motives were simple: to burn SUVs and to burn a polar tree farm.
Following a restatement of several earlier arguments, Sharp then commented on the issue of the marijuana grow operation. It is possible for the government to exaggerate the severity of the pot growing. For instance, when Gerlach and Thurston were arrested, they had in their possession four pounds of pot and several hundred ecstacy. Sharp stated that his client's 44 pot plants pale by comparison to this.
Sharp then returned to his comparison between defendants and his statistical analysis. He once again compared Joyanna Zacher to Suzanne Savoie, stating that Joyanna's non-cooperation was comparable to Savoie's research of two targets and six genetic engineering actions. Aiken interjected that in her opinion the research showed that someone cared about the politics. "Add that into your equation," she said, arguing that this was superior to random acts of violence or the "I did it for the adventure" attitude.
Sharp countered that he was simply hoping that the court would take an objective look at sentencing parity. He said, "Let's look at the social dynamics of the group. Why did they get out [of the group] and what are they like now?" He stated that by mid-2001 Nathan and Joyanna were disenchanted with their co-conspirators and that they felt that the others' existence revolved around the actions; the two didn't like the single-mindedness of the others. Nathan and Joyanna were interested in music and education, and were well read in diverse topics. The two did not flee when they heard of arrests on December 7, 2005 when they certainly could have. Sharp noted the incredible sense of humor possessed by the two, even at their own expense. He stated that 63 months would be a sufficient, if not overly sufficient, sentence for the two.
Sharp then stated that it is historical fact, not what an attorney says about a client, that should be decisive. He presented three main concrete factors that should be considered, and then proceeded to list the "whiner factors" that should not be taken into account. These "whiner factors" were displayed on an overhead:
1) "My frontal lobes are underdeveloped."
2) "I'm lonely."
3) "I'm depressed."
4) "I'm an outsider seeking validation."
5) "I had a loved one who died."
6) (Lawyer suggested) "I was sexually abused."
7) "I suffered post-traumatic stress."
8) "I was led down the primrose path by a friend or lover."
9) My love for a conspirator.
10) My love for the environment.
11) My love for animals.
12) "It was someone else's fault."
13) "I left the movement."
(Sharp added at the end: "Whoops! Throw our excuse out too. My memo cited my client's challenging childhood.")
Sharp then stated that "Buildings don't burn less when nice people burn them," and therefore extent of damage, number of criminal acts, and length for which defendants carried out arsons should be the real guide for sentencing length.
Aiken jumps in again: "The letter I WILL write is for re-funding indigent defense." She appreciated Sharp's sense of humor and commitment. She thanked him for his objective look and fresh perspective, but that she wanted to hear arguments based on community safety and the accountability of his client. "Our goal is to send healthy people out into the community."
Sharp returns to his statistics, quoting average number of sentence years received so far per arson, per million dollars in damage, and per year spent in ALF/ELF. He adjusts these figures to account for extremes. This is where Aiken interrupts him again and says, "I've been doing calculations based on the costs of imprisoning these folks. [... ] Your arguments are based on a premise about sentencing negotiations I am not privy to. [Referring to negotiated plea of Susanne Savoie's suggested sentence plus 18 months.] You are not addressing community safety, accountability and rehabilitation."
Sharp quickly summed up his argument: a comparison to those previously sentenced that is based on cost of damage suggests a 65-month sentence, and a comparison based on number of arsons suggests a 60.5-month sentence. Aiken should sentence his client to 63 months, just in the middle.
Nathan's lawyer, John Storkel made a few final comments. He said that the characterization of his client as acting merely for "adventure" was an overstatement. Nathan does have a deep concern for the planet. At the time, Nathan had the misguided belief that the world was coming to an end. He said, "That's not quite true. We may have an eight year window to change that." Nathan was eighteen years old at the time, the youngest person in the conspiracy. He said at that age, you'd be more concerned with consistency and integrity, and more easily disillusioned when integrity is compromised. He said that a Romania, Nathan and the others waited for a security guard to leave before lighting the fire because he has respect for life. When Nathan became disillusioned, it was because of talk of actual violence. He reminded the judge that Gerlach had said that Nathan was not an advocate of violence and he continues to hold this belief. Having quit the group because of their opposition to violence against people, Nathan and Joyanna were approached about another action but refused. Nathan was candid about how one feels in the midst of risky behavior - but his actions were motivated by more than thrill-seeking. They are now married. And they met at a party, not at a "planning meeting" for the WTO. He said the showing of the video about Seattle was irrelevant - Nathan was not in the black bloc. He said the poem in the CD case wasn't relevant because Nathan did not write it. He said, "I have hundreds of CDs at home, and I'm sure I can find one that has a phrase I disagree with."
Storkel said that Engdall had acted consistently in the spirit of the plea agreements, and that, as Savoie had received 51 months, Nathan should receive 69 months, but then noted that Sharp was better at statistical analysis, and 63 would be even better. He reminded Aiken again that the two defendants were well aware of the 2005 arrests, and could have taken of, but did not. Instead, they accepted responsibility by pleading guilty and admitted their individual involvement. He noted the family support in the courtroom, and the letters of support provided to the judge. He said he found his client to be extremely articulate and thoughtful, and that Nathan was thinking about his plans for the future pursuing his music, art and work. He said, our clients will not be served by receiving a 92-month sentence, but that 63 months would provide adequate deterrence and safeguard the community. He stated again that human life is sacred to Nathan, as is all life.
Aiken then said she would like to hear from the defendants (who had made no plans to address the court). There was an awkward pause, and then a lengthy lunch recess was suggested.
During lunch recess, technical difficulties were overcome, and Aiken was allowed to view video statements from Nathan and Joyanna's family and friends.
After lunch (two hours later) Aiken asked Nathan and Joyanna if they had objections to their pre-sentence reports, to which both answered no. She then said she'd like to hear from them.
Both read very brief statements.
Joyanna said she had never shirked responsibility for her actions. She said she has no further interest in activism of any kind. Instead, she said she desires to live amongst the air, trees, water and animals sustainably.
Nathan said that the gift of life is the most sacred gift, and that he did not take actions that disrespect life. He said he takes responsibility for his actions wholeheartedly.
Following another brief recess, Judge Aiken said that she comes into these proceedings not only the ability to draw on all the legal arguments, but that she does not make a final determination until listening to what defendants have to say. She said, "Real heroes acted with non-violence, even if they died with violence." Then to Nathan she said, "Mr. Block, your view of the world has stunned me." Then she quoted Tennyson ("if you find the world better at twenty-five... ") Then she said, "I don't understand who or what you are, because you didn't let anyone inside. There's a wall that appears to enclose you. I can't see through that. Your lawyers worked hard to paint you in the best light, but I could see the pain in their faces - they can't save you from you. It's not enough, and they know that." She then read an excerpt of William O. Douglas' "Go East Young Man" which spoke with reverence for the liberty, freedom and beauty of this country. She said that one must balance the need to respect the world with a respect for legal means. "For us old people, we read books. I wonder if people read autobiographies anymore. In prison, I suggest that you read about other peoples' struggles." She went on, "If life means something to you, you do not put it at risk by fire." She spoke about having cared for fire victims in the past, saying, "You have no idea of the ramifications of your actions." She spoke of the hurt caused, and then stated, "I didn't hear anyone say they're sorry. I didn't hear anyone apologize. I didn't hear anyone say they would work to pay restitution." She paused for a few seconds, then said, "Pregnant pause. You could have stood up right now and addressed these things, but I noticed no one is moving." She said that she was not persuaded by Sharp's parsing of criminal conduct and earlier sentences. She said, "Each defendant is not otherwise equal." The things she said she must consider are "what you did, why you did it, have you removed yourself, have you changed your life, have you shown true remorse, and whether or to what degree did you cooperate?" She argued that the non-cooperating defendants want to "have their cake and eat it, too". She stated that they want lower sentences, but also wanted to be martyrs and activist heroes. She said that, unlike the six cooperating defendants, Nathan and Joyanna plead guilty because they "had to". "I find, as a whole, that you are very different from Meyerhoff, Savoie, and Tankersley who had a change of heart. Those things simply matter," she said, "You want the same benefits the others have received for their cooperation." She added, "You terrorized and threatened people." She praised Nathan and Joyanna's family for their support, and urged them to continue supporting during and after prison. She said to Nathan and Joyanna, "When you get out, pay attention to who welcomes you back unconditionally, and who places conditions and labels on you."
She then said that she would be sentencing Nathan and Joyanna identically. She went through her sentencing calculations, with upward and downward departures. She applied the terrorism enhancement to both fires (Romania and Jefferson Poplar). She stated that she had the ability and discretion to go further downward in sentencing, but said to the defendants, "You have given me nothing... I have adjusted based on some remorse. Some acknowledgement of hurt caused. Some commitment to ending criminal activity." She said it is the cooperators that are really renouncing their criminal past. She said that refusing to be an activist is not a virtue, and that she believes in participatory democracy. "It is criminality that is sanctioned today." She said she would respect the low end of the government's sentencing recommendation and handed down a sentence of 92 months. She ordered the full restitution of $1,953,412. There was a change from previous sentencings with regard to post-release conditions about association with activists. Previously she had applied a condition of no contact with earth or animal defense organizations. The other lawyers have objected to this condition based on its vagueness. Today, she specified no future contact with anyone or any group involved in illegal animal rights or environmental activism. She said she would recommend to the BOP that Nathan be housed at FCI Sheridan (Oregon) and Joyanna be housed at FCI Dublin (California). She then said it was a very sad ending to a very long week, and that she hopes they will learn, they will make a change, and that when they get out they will be a part of the world and not separate from the world.
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