She crossed the line in conspiracy, attorney says of undercover FBI plant
A key witness in a domestic terrorism conspiracy case against a Placer County man parried Wednesday with a defense lawyer determined to show that the witness, while working undercover for the FBI, was more active in the conspiracy than federal guidelines allow.
On the third day of Eric McDavid's trial, his attorney Mark Reichel also kept coming back to the subject of his client's romantic aspirations regarding the witness.
To shield her true identity, the witness testified only as "Anna," the alias she used while posing as a radical environmental activist opposed to government and big business. The judge knows her real name, as does Reichel, who agreed to the unusual arrangement.
McDavid, 29, is charged with conspiring to damage and destroy property, including government facilities, by means of fire and explosives. His alleged targets included a U.S. Forest Service genetics tree lab in Placerville and the Nimbus Dam and nearby fish hatchery in Rancho Cordova.
"Anna," 21, was in the witness chair for the first time in her life, but she never lost composure and even seemed to warm to Reichel, laughing at his amusing remarks and indulging the veteran defense lawyer's folksy, conversational style of cross-examination.
Reichel sought to demonstrate, for example, that "Anna" crossed the line set out in federal directives when she supplied McDavid and two others with a notebook containing handwritten bomb-making recipes.
She testified that the recipes had been prepared by FBI agents with one key ingredient missing. They were duds, to use Reichel's word, but McDavid and his two cohorts never realized that.
"Anna" also testified that in December 2005, less than a month before she gave the small, black notebook to McDavid, she received approval from the FBI to engage in criminal activity. Specifically, she said, she was authorized to advise the trio on gathering and mixing chemicals required to make explosives, and to conduct surveillance of potential bombing targets.
The group of four -- "Anna" and the three people later charged with the conspiracy -- called the notebook the "burn book," because they agreed to burn it when they finished a planned nationwide bombing campaign aimed at government and corporate facilities.
"Anna" acknowledged she encouraged another of the conspirators, Lauren Weiner, to participate in mixing chemicals, and was insistent that McDavid, Weiner, and the third conspirator, Zachary Jenson, identify potential targets they were comfortable with.
Weiner, 21, and Jenson, 22, have pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy and are expected to testify against McDavid in return for leniency when they are sentenced.
Reichel elicited from "Anna" that she pushed to meet with the three conspirators in California in November 2005, ignoring McDavid's plea that family business had him tied up. She testified she told McDavid she "wanted to get everyone together to talk."
When Weiner couldn't come up with travel money, "Anna" paid for her to fly from Philadelphia to Sacramento, where the two women met McDavid and Jenson at Cesar Chavez Park and then proceeded to McDavid's family home in Foresthill for the meeting.
"Anna" even paid for Weiner's cab to the airport in Philadelphia.
"Had you been instructed that you were allowed to assume a leadership role?" Reichel asked her.
"No," she replied.
"Had you been instructed that you could push people to do things they didn't want to do?" the defense lawyer asked.
"No," she again replied.
On redirect examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney R. Steven Lapham, "Anna" testified that the FBI wanted her to set up the California meeting because the bureau was anxious to learn if the three conspirators were ready to go through with the bombing campaign.
"Anna" acknowledged to Reichel that McDavid told her he loved her at a protest they joined in Philadelphia in June 2005.
On Oct. 26, 2005, "Anna" received an e-mail from McDavid telling her that she was "never far from my thoughts and my heart," and "that last embrace in Philly gave me chills."
On redirect examination by Lapham, she testified she never had "romantic relations with the defendant," and never had "any romantic interest" in him.
The October e-mail prompted "Anna" to discuss with FBI agents how she should handle McDavid's infatuation and she was advised to keep him at bay by telling him "mission first and romance later," she testified.
"Anna" said she put the advice to use when McDavid pressed the issue when she visited Foresthill. She told him she was "not ready for a sexual relationship."
The encounter took place in her rental car equipped by the FBI with a hidden recording device.
Further questioning by Reichel brought out that "Anna" also told McDavid on that occasion, "I honestly don't know how I feel right now."
She testified she said that on the advice of FBI agents, who instructed her not to "shoot him down hard" because "it might cause an unstable reaction."
Reichel's theory is that without the desire to stay in close touch with "Anna," which she did not discourage, his client would not have been willing to continue planning the bombing campaign.
"Anna's" testimony concluded Wednesday.
The trial resumes Monday in the court of U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr.
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