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Earth First! v. FBI trial ends week one

By Chris Nichols, Special to the Daily Planet
Saturday April 13, 2002

Attorneys for Earth First! activists Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney questioned witnesses in the opening week of their case against the FBI and Oakland Police, hoping to establish a timeline of events in the case.  

Lead counsel for Bari and Cherney, Dennis Cunningham, questioned Seeds of Peace activist Shannon Marr and Earth First! organizer Karen Pickett in an attempt to pinpoint the exact times and order of events immediately following the car bombing which left Bari severely injured nearly12 years ago.  

Establishing a timeline is crucial to determining how Oakland police and the FBI decided Bari and Cherney were the bombing suspects.  

“We need to establish that the police did arrest Bari and Cherney when we said they did and that they did it in an inappropriate fashion; that there wasn’t enough information to arrest them,” said Alicia Littletree, member of the Bari and Cherney legal team and Earth First! activist. 

According to Littletree, the first week of the trial has been a success though the larger success may be that the case has finally made it to court. “I’m astounded that we are in court at all. This is only the second time that a grass-roots group has been able to take the FBI to court,” said Littletree. 

Attorneys for Bari and Cherney originally filed a lawsuit against the FBI in 1991.  

Bari, who died of cancer in 1997, and Cherney were organizing Redwood Summer, a series of demonstrations set for the summer of 1990, on the day of the bombing.  

Shannon Marr, a Seeds of Peace activist, and Karen Pickett, an Earth First! organizer, testified this week they were taken into custody and questioned for their association with Bari and for trying to visit Bari in the hospital. Marr, who was driving the car ahead of Bari’s on the day of the bombing, testified that police both questioned her and accused her of planting the bomb.  

“For me, seeing Shannon Marr testify in front of the defendants was really satisfying. She went through so much and was the first one to help Judi after the bombing. I was really pleased with her testimony,” said Littletree. 

According to Earth First!, The Seeds of Peace house, where Bari and Cherney had spent the night before the bombing, was ransacked during a warrantless search following the bombing. 

Attorneys for the FBI, led by Joseph Sher, have focused most of their attention on establishing the credibility of the FBI agents accused of misconduct in the case. In Sher’s opening statements he described the agents as dedicated public servants acting within the limits of the law. 

Sher also described accused FBI Special Agent John Reikes as a dedicated environmentalist, concerned with endangered species. Sher added that while Reikes may disagree with some tactics of Earth First! activists, he had no motivation to frame Bari or Cherney. 

Assistant City Attorney Maria, lead counsel for the accused officers of the Oakland Police Department, emphasized that the officers acted on their best knowledge and evidence available, relying on the expertise of the FBI in matters dealing with explosives and terrorism. 

Both Joseph Sher and Maria Bee were contacted for comment regarding the first week of the trial but did not respond. 

Lead attorney for Bari and Cherney, Dennis Cunningham, was also contacted regarding comment on the first week of trial but did not respond. 

According to Earth First!, Oakland Police Department Officer Paul Slivinski testified that he understood he was “guarding a prisoner,” as he escorted Darryl Cherney out of the hospital at 5 pm on the day of the bombing. Cherney was later questioned and booked at Oakland Police headquarters before being released due to a lack of evidence. 

Alameda County Bomb Squad responder T. J. Roumph’s conclusion that the bomb was placed under the car seat, not in the back floorboard as FBI Special Agent Frank Doyle has maintained, contradicts the FBI’s claim that Bari and Cherney planted the bomb in their car. 

Pictures of the bombed car will be exhibited next week in the attempt to determine the location of the bomb within the car. 

Testimony from defendant Sgt. Sitterud of the FBI will continue Monday along with testimony and the examination of defendant OPD member Sgt. Robert Chenault, OPD Bomb Squad member Myron Hanson, and OPD Sgt. Del Kraft.  

The trial will continue until approximately May 24, 2002, in the Oakland Federal Courthouse, 1301 Clay St., Judge Claudia Wilken’s courtroom (fourth floor). Hearings take place Monday through Thursday, 8:30 am to 1:30 pm. The proceedings are open to the public.