By JONNY BONNER
The FBI must hand over evidence tied to a decades-old car bombing in the Bay Area in which two Earth First! activists were injured, a federal judge ruled.
On May 24, 1990, a pipe bomb wrapped with nails exploded under the Subaru wagon of environmentalist Judi Bari in Oakland, Calif. Bari and a fellow activist, Darryl Cherney, were seriously injured in the blast. The pair had been traveling to college campuses, rallying against the logging of old-growth redwood. In a federal lawsuit, Bari and Cherney said the Oakland Police Department and FBI framed them, and that the FBI withheld evidence crucial to solving the bombing.
Though Bari died of breast cancer in 1997, a jury ruled in favor of her and Cherney five years later. The parties then spent two years in protracted settlement negotiations. Bari’s estate and Cherney were awarded $4.4 million in damages, but the FBI failed to release a host of evidence related to the bombing, claiming the evidence was “contraband.” The withheld evidence includes “the fragments of the device which exploded in Bari’s car, a partially-exploded pipe bomb that was found at a Louisiana Pacific lumber mill in Cloverdale, Calif.; a hand-lettered sign found near the Cloverdale device reading ‘LP screws mill workers’; a fingerprint obtained from the sign; an analysis of the fingerprint; and a letter to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat newspaper, known as the ‘Lord’s Avenger’ letter, by an individual claiming responsibility for the Cloverdale device and the bombing of Bari’s car,” according to the court. Cherney objected to the destruction of the evidence, which the FBI was obligated to announce, in 2010, and asked that it be sent to an independent forensic lab for testing.
The government objected to a declaration by attorney James Wheaton that Cherney used to support his motion. Wheaton’s declaration addressed the understanding of the parties at the time of the settlement agreement regarding the disposition of the evidence. A year later, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Larson upheld Cherney’s objection and Wheaton’s declaration. U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken affirmed the magistrate’s order. “Having considered all of the papers filed by the parties, the court grants the United States’ motion for de novo review, denies Cherney’s renewed motion to strike, overrules the United States’s objection to the magistrate hudge’s order, and grants Cherney’s request for action and motion to implement,” according to the opinion dated Saturday. “The court affirms Magistrate Judge Larson’s order.”
Cherney must propose a test for the evidence, and the United States has 14 days to object to that plan. Cherney recently released a documentary, “Who Bombed Judi Bary?,” chronicling the events.