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Earth First! bombing trial nears conclusion

By MICHELLE LOCKE, Associated Press Writer
Monday May 06, 2002

Twelve years after two Earth First! activists were arrested in the bombing of their own car, investigators facing accusations of false arrest have sharply different recollections of the case. 

Two of the three Oakland police officers named in the suit filed by Darryl Cherney and Judi Bari say they were heavily influenced by FBI agents who came to the scene of the 1990 bombing and told them the two victims were tied to domestic terrorism. 

FBI agents, meanwhile, maintain it was Oakland police who pushed for the swift arrests. 

Cherney is expected to take the stand Monday in Oakland federal court as his attorneys wrap up their case. Attorneys for the lawmen expect to call only a few more witnesses and the case could go to the jury by mid-month. 

Bari and Cherney were driving in Oakland in May 1990 when a bomb went off under Bari, who was at the wheel. She suffered a crushed pelvis and Cherney suffered cuts. 

Hours after the bombing, the two were arrested and named as the main suspects. However, the district attorney later determined there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute and no one was charged in the bombing. 

Bari and Cherney’s civil suit claims false arrests, illegal searches, slanderous statements and conspiracy. 

Attorneys for Cherney and Bari’s estate — Bari died of cancer in 1997 — have tried to show that FBI agents rushed to the scene and took the lead in the investigation, telling police Cherney and Bari were linked to power line sabotage. 

At the time of the arrests, officials said the bomb was in the rear of the car where it would have been visible to Bari and Cherney. 

But jurors have heard from David Williams, the FBI’s former chief bomb technician at the agency’s crime lab in Washington, D.C., who said it was clear the device had been shoved under the driver’s seat. 

Williams testified that a switch, a cheap pocket watch and a motion device would have all had to be triggered before the bomb could detonate. The Cherney-Bari team says the pair would have been crazy to drive around on top of the bomb with the switch pulled and the timer activated. 

Two of the three Oakland policemen named in the suit testified they relied heavily almost exclusively on FBI information. 

However, retired FBI agent Frank Doyle denied Oakland police claims he told them the bomb must have been clearly visible. He also denied telling officers that nails found in the back of the car matched nails wrapped in duct tape around the bomb. 

On Thursday, former Oakland Police Lt. Mike Sims testified Oakland police did take the lead in the investigation. 

Sims, now working in the Tracy department, said he still believes Bari and Cherney knew the bomb was in the car but didn’t realize it was armed.