William “Billy” Cottrell, 24, was convicted on 8 of 9 charges this month stemming from an August 2003 arson at an car dealership.
Cottrell’s lawyers, however, managed to create enough reasonable doubt to have their client acquitted on the most severe charge — use of a destructive device during a crime of violence — that would have carried with it a minimum 30 year sentence.
During his two week trial, Cottrell and his lawyers never disputed that Cottrell was at the scene of the Earth Liberation Front attack. Rather Cottrell’s defense centered on claims that he went to the dealership with two associates for what he thought was going to be a night of spray painting the SUVs. Cottrell testified that he was not aware that the two men he accompanied — Tyler Johnson and Michie Oe (both of whom are now fugitives and believed to have fled the country) — planned to commit arson and that he did not participate in any act of arson.
The jury still found Cottrell guilty of conspiracy to commit arson and seven counts of arson.
After police arrested Joshua Connole — who has not been charged with a crime and apparently had nothing to do with the actions of the other three men — Cottrell sent e-mails to newspapers claiming the action for the ELF and stating that Connole was not involved in the crime. Those e-mails were traced back to Cottrell.
Cottrell’s lawyers wanted to use as a defense the claim that Cottrell’s Asperger’s syndrome prevented him from resisting the svengali pull of Johnson and Oe, but the judge disallowed the defense. Cottrell’s lawyers plan to appeal the conviction, claiming that they should have been allowed to have used the Asperger’s defense.
Cottrell will be sentenced in March 2005. Although each of the charges he was convicted on carry up to 5 year jail sentences, Cottrell will likely serve any prison terms concurrently. Because he was convicted on federal charges, however, he will serve the full term of any eventual sentence.
Regardless, he isn’t likely to get much more support from fellow activists. The Earth Liberation Prisoners Support Group issued a statement shortly after his arrest disavowing Cottrell for testifying against Johnson and Oe. The Earth Liberation Prisoners Support Group said,
It is with deep regret that ELP has to announce that William “Billy”
Cottrell has testified against others at his trial.
Earlier this week, William “Billy” Cottrell testified that he had been
present at the scene of an Earth Liberation Front action. He admitted to
painting ELF slogans and to causing criminal damage. However he then went
onto say that he did not start any fires and named two people, Tyler Johnson
and Michie Oe, who he claims were responsible for the fires.
It should be noted that, as has been proven time and time again, you can not
trust the word of a police informant, as they will happily name innocent
people to get themselves off the hook and no charges have ever been bought
against Tyler or Michie, although the FBI have now named them as “fugitive
A full report on Cottrell’s trial will appear in the next issue of “Spirit
of Freedom (January 2005)” and ELP will be putting out a joint statement
with the former “Free Billy Support Network” in the next few days, after
Cottrell has been sentenced. (The “Free Billy Support Network” has been
dissolved because of Cottrell’s decision to blame others).
However as of now Cottrell is regarded as a police informant and will
receive no more support from ELP.
ELP would like to apologize to all those who have supported Cottrell and we
would remind everyone that although Cottrell has turned traitor there are
many other good prisoners who need our support and we hope this will not put
you off supporting them.
What’s that old line about no honor among animal rights and earth liberation terrorists?
Man guilty in environmental firebombing of SUV dealership. Matt Krasnowski, Copley News Service, November 20, 2004.
Student convicted of torching SUVs in Calif. eco-vandalism spree. Associated Press, November 19, 2004.
Student denies firebombings in SoCal SUV arson case. Associated Press, November 18, 2004.
Arson suspect claims he painted SUVs but didn’t set them on fire. Copley News Service, November 18, 2004.
Prosecution finishes in ecoterrorism trial. Gene Maddaus, Pasadena Star News, November 16, 2004.
William “Billy” Cottrell Testifies Against Others. Newsletter, Earth Liberation Prisoners Support Group, November 20, 2004.