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Mistrial declared in bomb talk case

September 20, 2007|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO -- A mistrial was declared Wednesday in the prosecution of "eco-anarchist" Rodney Coronado after the jury said it was deadlocked.

Coronado, 41, was accused of urging a gathering of vegans to throw firebombs. He was charged under a seldom-used federal law that makes it a crime to describe how to make an explosive device with the intent of encouraging a lawless act.

On Aug. 1, 2003, just 15 hours after arson destroyed a condominium project under construction, Coronado spoke to a group of vegans and others in a community center in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego.

Asked by a questioner about making a firebomb, Coronado described the device he used to gut an animal research laboratory at Michigan State University, a crime for which he served four years in prison.

The arsonist who burned the San Diego condo project, causing $50 million in damage, has not been caught, and no one was hurt in the blaze. But a banner was left behind by the Earth Liberation Front, identified by the FBI as a terrorist group. The sign read: "If you build it, we will burn it. The ELFs are mad."

Coronado, who was the group's spokesman, is not a suspect in the fire, authorities said.

Coronado did not explicitly tell his audience to use firebombs, according to recordings played during the three-day trial.

U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Miller instructed jurors that Coronado could be convicted only if they were convinced he meant to encourage an "imminent lawless act."

During his speech, Coronado told the crowd, "I wish I didn't have to engage in arson. You know, it's dangerous, that it's extremely serious. You can go to jail for many years."

Assistant U.S. Atty. John Parmley told jurors that Coronado, who lives in Tucson, "came to San Diego [with] a plan and the plan was to teach people arson."

But one of Coronado's defense attorneys, San Francisco-based Tony Serra, countered that while Coronado's political views may be repulsive to many people, he did not urge an immediate crime and thus is protected by the 1st Amendment.

Miller set a hearing for Sept. 28 on whether to retry the case.

The jury did not announce how it was split, but defense attorneys said they were told the majority favored acquittal.

"If these prosecutors opt to retry this case, then they are the puppets we know they are, in the business of suppressing constitutional rights," Serra said.


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