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Arson Case Briefs

provided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms
for more information on this Brief, contact:
ATF, Arson and Explosive Programs Division - (202) 927-7930


Fur Breeders Agricultural Co-Op
Sandy, Utah
March 11, 1997


A: IN: 745812 97 0036

B: CASE AGENT: Jeffrey P. Sarnacki

C: FIELD DIVISION/OFFICE: Phoenix/Salt Lake City

D: PHONE: 801-524-5853

E: PROSECUTOR:

David J. Schwendiman
United States Attorney
District of Utah

F: SYNOPSIS: On March 11, 1997, an explosion and fire occurred at the Fur Breeders Agricultural Co-Op in Sandy, Utah. The incident, which occurred in unincorporated Salt Lake County, was responded to by the Salt Lake County Fire and Sheriff's Departments with assistance from the Sandy and Murray Fire Departments.

Upon arrival, fire fighters encountered a two-story commercial building fully involved in flames on the second level. One member of the Murray fire department sustained a minor injury when he partially fell through a burned-out floor at the top of the stairway leading to the burn room.

Upon investigation by the fire department, it was apparent that an explosion had occurred on the second level. Further investigation revealed that a number of delivery trucks parked outside, on the south end of the building, had also suffered explosive damage.

The investigation was conducted by the Salt Lake County Emergency Services Division bomb technicians and the Inter-Agency Arson Task Force (IAATF), which includes an ATF certified fire investigator. ATF also responded with the Salt Lake City Field Office and a Phoenix Field Division certified explosives specialist.

The investigation revealed that individuals had entered the structure by breaking the glass in the front door, and had set a fire and placed at least five pipe bombs.

The media reported claims by individuals stating the incident was committed in the name of animal rights.

G. CHARGES:

United States Code

Title 18, Sections 844(i) and 924(c)
Title 26, Section 5861(f)

H. EVIDENCE:

1. On March 11, 1997, an explosion and fire occurred that left physical evidence of pipe bombs and liquid accelerant.

2. That day, an individual telephoned a radio station in Salt Lake City, Utah, and claimed the act was committed in support of animals and "in support of political prisoner Jeff Watkins." Watkins was at the time on a hunger strike in a jail in New York, where he was being held for criminal mischief.

3. An individual who was involved with animal rights groups--specifically, the "Straight Edge" and "Vegan" movements in Utah--was identified and approached about this incident.

4. With the help of the radio caller, a subject named Douglas Joshua Ellerman was identified. Ellerman subsequently confessed his involvement to ATF agents and members of the investigative group.

I. LEGAL ISSUES AND PROBLEMS:

The evidence against Ellerman consisted of his confession and the physical evidence from the scene.

The confession was not contested in Federal court, however, the Constitutionality of 18 U.S.C. 844(i) was challenged.

U.S. District Court Judge J. Thomas Greene held for the Government; however, the defendant was allowed to enter a conditional plea of guilty, pending the appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeal.

The United States Attorney is confident this ruling will be upheld.

J. VERDICT AND SENTENCING:

Douglas Joshua Ellerman pled guilty and on September 10, 1998, was sentenced to 7 years' imprisonment followed by 3 years' supervised release. He was additionally ordered to pay $750,000 in restitution.

Prosecution of the other five defendants is pending.

 
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