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Earth First! concludes prosecution against FBI, police Bari details bombing trauma

By Chris NicholsDaily Planet Staff
Thursday May 09, 2002

An emotional day in the Earth First! trial against the FBI and Oakland Police Department concluded Wednesday with videotaped testimony from the late Judi Bari, one of two environmental activists suing the FBI and OPD for mishandling their 1990 car bombing in Oakland. 

In the video Bari, who died of cancer shortly after concluding her taped testimony in 1997, expressed the lingering pain and fear she experienced as a result of the bombing.  

“I now know pain is physical. I never knew pain like that in my life,” said Bari. 

Bari explained that being wrongfully accused as a suspect in the bombing, a charge later dropped due to lack of evidence, led to a loss of credibility among environmental groups and destroyed much of her work involving Redwood Summer, an environmental campaign planned for the summer of 1990. 

Attorneys for Bari and fellow Earth First! activist Darryl Cherney said Bari's videotaped testimony shows that there were damages as a result of the FBI and OPD's mishandling of the case. 

“Part of our assignment is showing damages. The failure to protect her [Bari] was part of why she was still terrified,” said Tony Serra, an attorney for Bari. 

The 80-minute tape, played both Tuesday and Wednesday, along with tapes of news reports on Earth First! shortly after the bombing in 1990, concluded the plaintiffs portion of the case. 

The tape also included Bari's fears over continued death threats and the distress caused by two searches of her residence by the FBI and OPD. 

Defense counsels for the FBI and OPD objected to many points on the Bari tape but did not directly ask Bari any questions at the time of her testimony. 

After the Bari taped concluded, the defense counsel gave opening arguments, denying conspiracy charges, and called witness Albert Brewer of the OPD to the stand. 

Maria Bee, attorney for the OPD defendants, questioned Brewer, an officer for 21 years at the time of the bombing, about his involvement in the case. 

As the first officer at the scene, Brewer said he asked the occupants of the car if they were injured. Brewer also testified that the passenger in the car said to him “someone threw a bomb in the car.” 

Attorney for the plaintiffs, Robert Bloom questioned Brewer about his memory of the conversation with the occupants in the car and also asked Brewer whether or not he tried to find suspects while at the scene. 

Attorneys for the plaintiffs claim that both the FBI and OPD failed to thoroughly investigate the crime scene and possible leads in the case, leaving Bari as the lone suspect in the bombing, citing Brewer's failure to canvass the scene for suspects until 30 minutes after he arrived. 

Captain Tim McKinley, a former Special Agent with the FBI, testified Wednesday that he was the first member of the FBI to respond to the scene. 

When asked by the defense why he would respond to a report of a car bombing, McKinley explained that a bombing “might well fall into the interest of the FBI.”  

Though the plaintiffs in the case have made efforts to show that the bomb was planted under the front seat of the car and ripped through the front floorboards, McKinley testified that the hole was under and to the rear of the front seat. 

The location of the hole is a critical part of the trial because the FBI claim that the bomb was knowingly being transported by Bari and Cherney in the back seat of their Subaru and not planted under the front seat as the plaintiffs claim. 

In an attempt to diffuse any conspiracy theory, that the FBI was involved in planting the bomb, McKinley explained that he was a “minimal presence at the scene” and had never heard of Earth First! or Judi Bari before the day of the bombing.  

McKinley explained that at the time of the bombing he had been working on a case involving organized crime, narcotics and specifically the Hell's Angels motorcycle group. After hearing the news bulletin about a bombing on Park Boulevard in Oakland, and knowing that a number of Hell's Angels members lived just a few blocks away, McKinley decided to proceed to the scene.  

McKinley also testified that after arriving at the scene he made phone calls to the Oakland FBI office and was told that “some people with Earth First! were traveling to Santa Cruz and were going to do something big.”  

Serra concluded his questioning of McKinley Wednesday by asking whether a rivalry existed between the FBI and the ATF or the police for jurisdiction at a bomb scene. McKinley denied that a rivalry existed and added that the FBI often takes the lead in such an investigation. 

“It could well lie in the primary jurisdiction of the FBI,” said McKinley. 

The defense plans to call several more witnesses Thursday. The case is expected to go to the jury for a final decision by the middle of next week.