Ben Winslow Fox 13 News
6:19 PM MDT, October 5, 2009
SALT LAKE CITY - A federal grand jury has indicted an animal rights activist who refused to testify about the release of thousands of mink from Utah ranches. Jordan Halliday, 22, served several months in jail for contempt of court after he said he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination. When he was released in June, he was handed a federal grand jury indictment for contempt.
"Are you willing to go to jail again for this?" Halliday was asked by Fox 13's Ben Winslow outside the U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Salt Lake City.
"There's no option, I guess. I mean, you gotta do what you gotta do. If I go to jail, I go to jail, but it's not a priority," he replied.
The indictment accuses Halliday of willfully and knowingly disobeying an order by U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell on two separate occasions in March. Halliday was subpoenaed as part of an overall investigation into the release of thousands of mink. He believes he had a right to exercise his constitutional right to refuse to testify.
"I pled my Fifth Amendment right and they said it's not a bona fide privilege," Halliday said, adding that he disagreed with federal prosecutors.
The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) claimed responsibility for the release of mink from farms in South Jordan, Hyrum and Kaysville. Halliday and another activist were subpoenaed, presumably as part of a larger investigation into the ALF and its activities locally. The FBI considers the ALF a domestic terrorist organization.
Halliday declined to speak about the grand jury system, which can compel people to testify without representation by an attorney in secret.
The grand jury ultimately indicted two people, William James "BJ" Viehl and Alex Hall on charges of violating the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. Viehl recently pleaded guilty to the charge.
In a statement posted on a website seeking support for the activists' defense, Viehl explained why he took the deal.
"After playing all the cards I was dealt, and becoming aware of circumstances out of my control, I realized the best plan of action would be to change my plea to guilty. If this case was in a different state or district, chances at trial would be much more in my favor. Unfortunately that is not the case," he wrote.
Viehl called Utah a "very conservative and religiously controlled state," and said that in cases such as his, the perception is that one is "guilty until proven innocent." He said he is willing to serve whatever sentence the court imposes.
"Along with that and accepting responsibility, I am in no way cooperating or testifying about any other activists. It is strictly me, myself, and I, admitting guilt," Viehl wrote.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah declined to comment on the grand jury indictment of Halliday, who goes on trial Nov. 2.
"They've not offered me a plea and I'm not going to take any pleas, if it convicts me of a felony because i've not done anything wrong," Halliday said. "I feel I've not done anything wrong."