Register-Guard (Eugene, OR), January 26, 2006
ARSON SUSPECT FREED ON $1.6 MILLION BAIL
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 acupuncture.
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 said.
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 more.
"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 you."
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.