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FBI arrests Caltech student in anti-SUV arson
by JankyHellface (repost)
Wednesday Mar 10th, 2004 11:05 AM
The FBI arrested a California Institute of Technology student Tuesday for investigation of arson and vandalism that destroyed or damaged 125 sport utility vehicles at San Gabriel Valley car dealerships and homes last year in apparent support of radical environmentalism.
The FBI arrested a California Institute of Technology student Tuesday for investigation of arson and vandalism that destroyed or damaged 125 sport utility vehicles at San Gabriel Valley car dealerships and homes last year in apparent support of radical environmentalism.

William Cottrell, 23, of Pasadena was held without bail during a court appearance. He shook his head in disagreement when prosecutors talked about some of the charges.

If convicted, he faces a maximum of 40 years in prison, the U.S. attorney's office said.

"The charges are unfounded," defense attorney Stephen Alexander said outside court.

Cottrell, a second-year graduate student in the physics department at Caltech, used an alias when he contacted the Los Angeles Times by e-mail and informed the newspaper he was involved in the SUV firebombings, the FBI alleged in an affidavit.

In messages sent to the newspaper, Cottrell confirmed that he was affiliated with the Earth Liberation Front, a radical group of environmentalists that has claimed responsibility for other acts of arson and vandalism, the affidavit said.

In one e-mail, Cottrell, using the name Tony Marsden, wrote "I was amongst those responsible for the SUV attacks ... The FBI hasn't seemed to pick up on any of them (clues), which makes this whole ordeal rather boring for us, the true culprits," the affidavit alleged.

Cottrell offered details of the attacks to the newspaper to prove his involvement, the FBI said.

Cottrell was interviewed by authorities in January and denied being an ELF member or contacting the Times, the affidavit said.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Cottrell's father described his son as bright, hardworking and somewhat eccentric but incapable of the acts alleged by the government.

"We were hopeful he wouldn't be charged," Dr. William Milnes Cottrell said from his Concord, N.C., home. "We are very unhappy about it. We are still reasonably sure he wasn't a primary agent in this deed."

He said his son is the oldest of three children who grew up in North Carolina. Cottrell's parents split when he was 9 and lived with his mother for most of the rest of his childhood.

Cottrell graduated with a double major in mathematics and physics from the University of Chicago before attending Caltech, his father said.

He said his son told him that he was being watched by the FBI but maintained he was a "little surprised" by the investigation.

"He said he didn't actually do anything physically," said the father, who declined to elaborate.

Caltech officials said they were aware of the investigation and were cooperating. Authorities searched campus classrooms in January and seized six computers. They were also able to track the e-mails to Cottrell, according to the affidavit.

"We are understandably dismayed at the possibility that a Caltech student had any involvement with those acts," said Robert O'Rourke, Caltech's vice president for public relations. "There should be no question, however, that these acts of vandalism are neither supported nor endorsed by Caltech and are directly contrary to our mission."

The August spree hit car dealerships in West Covina, Duarte and Arcadia, as well as at least four privately owned vehicles in Monrovia. The communities are all just east of Pasadena, where Caltech is located and where Cottrell was arrested at a residence. A fire set at the West Covina dealership destroyed or damaged 72 vehicles, mostly SUVs, and a parts warehouse.

Prosecutors estimate the total damage was about $2.3 million.

Authorities initially arrested Josh Connole, 25, of Pomona but he was later released because of lack of evidence. He has denied any involvement in the attacks and denounced the ELF actions.

"I feel that I deserve an apology, and I'm waiting for an apology from the FBI and all these other departments and acronyms as well," Connole told The Associated Press. "And whoever this other person is, I hope his civil rights are being respected."

Connole was arrested because an FBI agent said a person in a videotape from one dealership looked like him. A bloodhound trained in detecting human scents traced a lighter found at a dealership to a place Connole had recently been, matching both scents, the affidavit said.

The ELF has claimed responsibility for a string of arsons in Detroit, Philadelphia and San Diego, where last year fire destroyed a 206-unit apartment complex under construction. The $50 million worth of damage made it the single largest act of property destruction by a radical group in U.S. history, the FBI said.

"Those who set fires, like those at the Hummer dealership in West Covina, are misguided zealots," FBI Assistant Director Richard Garcia said in a statement. "The FBI respects, encourages and protects people who peacefully exercise their right to free speech.

"However, when extremists resort to arson attacks, which inevitably will lead to a loss of life, they have gone too far and the FBI will investigate aggressively and relentlessly to bring those who set such fires to justice."

The FBI affidavit stated that Cottrell's 23-year-old girlfriend also was interviewed and told authorities that Cottrell admitted he was responsible for the vandalism but she believed he was joking about it. When pressed further, she said one of the men seen in a surveillance videotape at one of the dealerships looked like Cottrell.
LATEST COMMENTS ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
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These comments are submitted anonymously by website visitors.
TITLE AUTHOR DATE
Look at the factsHaydukeWednesday Apr 7th, 2004 4:31 PM
boy haydukeused yes, fraud yesFriday Mar 12th, 2004 6:24 PM
WrongHaydukeThursday Mar 11th, 2004 3:46 PM
she didn't blow herself upjury says soThursday Mar 11th, 2004 1:13 PM
What are you talking about?HaydukeThursday Mar 11th, 2004 9:12 AM
fbi claims to protect people's 1st amendmant, hahajudibari.orgWednesday Mar 10th, 2004 9:21 PM
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