Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)  [Printer-friendly version]
January 26, 2006


By Bill Bishop The Register-Guard

With a stern warning, a federal judge on Wednesday ordered Daniel
Gerard McGowan released on $1.6 million bail pending a trial that
could bring him a life sentence if he is convicted on charges that he
conspired to commit arson under the banner of the radical
environmental movement.

About three dozen relatives and supporters of McGowan, most of whom
flew in from New York and Texas, rejoiced after U.S. District Judge
Ann Aiken ruled after a two-hour hearing in Eugene. Aiken also imposed
tight restrictions on McGowan's activities when he returns to New York
City, where he works in a battered-women's shelter and studies

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kirk Engdall had urged Aiken to hold McGowan,
31, as a flight risk and as a continuing threat to the community.

Engdall said McGowan is connected to an international underground
network of activists who have helped others in the alleged conspiracy
to avoid arrest. Engdall said McGowan was active in more than one
supersecretive sub-cell of radical environmentalists who focused on
disrupting biotechnology research.

He said the sub-cells avoided law enforcement by taking a "blood oath"
of loyalty and by not using their real names within the group.

"The blood oath was primarily a promise they would never speak to one
another or to anyone else ever again about these events once an action
was done," Engdall said.

Recorded conversations between a secret informant and McGowan showed
that McGowan threatened to encourage retaliation against a judge who
sentenced activist Jeffrey "Free" Luers to a long prison term for
arson, Engdall said.

Four other co-conspirators have helped the government identify McGowan
as a suspect, and more charges are likely to be filed against him, he

McGowan faces charges of conspiracy arson, using a firebomb and 13
arsons in connection with the fires set at Superior Lumber Co. in
Glendale and Jefferson Poplar Farm in Clatskanie, both in 2001.

However, defense lawyer Jeffery Robinson of Seattle argued that
informants are unreliable because they are trying to cut deals for
themselves with prosecutors. By contrast, dozens of people wrote
letters of support to the court, describing McGowan as loyal,
committed, honest and innocent, he said.

While Robinson did not attack investigators, he said human nature
allows people to see things the way they want to see them. He pointed
to a few examples of legal actions by McGowan -- traveling to Canada,
supporting a prison inmate, for instance -- that investigators
interpret as signs of guilt.

He said McGowan never acted on his recorded threat against the judge
in Luers' case, proving that the recording caught the exaggerated
boasts of young men and was not a true sign of menace.

Robinson said McGowan knows his sister's family will lose everything
if he fails to return for trial, which may be delayed for a year or

"He is convinced he will get a fair trial. He has motive to come back
here and clear his name," Robinson said. "Mr. McGowan will not
bankrupt his family, the people who love and support him the most."

Aiken agreed, but ordered a list of restrictions on McGowan, including
that he live with his sister, follow a curfew and a tight schedule of
work and school, wear an electronic monitoring device and report
regularly to federal officials.

Addressing McGowan, Aiken said, "You give me any cause -- any cause -
and we will move so quickly to jail you that you won't know what hit

After the hearing, McGowan's sister, Lisa McGowan, said she believes
that the consistent tenor of the letters written on her brother's
behalf swayed the judge.

"They told stories of how he helps people," she said. "My brother is
innocent. He is a good man. We are thrilled to be taking him home with
us. We look forward to the trial."

Copyright (c) 2006, The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore.