November 01, 2006

 

 Animal rights militants sentenced to federal prison - November 1, 2006

 
posted October 15, 2006
 

Six members of a militant animal rights group sentenced to federal prison in September represent the first jury convictions for violations of the Animal Enterprise Protection Act. This law criminalizes certain conduct aimed at companies engaged in animal research and testing.

United States District Judge Anne E. Thompson also ordered the defendants, members of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA Inc., and the entity itself to share in the payment of $1 million in restitution to Huntingdon Life Sciences. This research laboratory in New Jersey was the target of the activists' international harassment campaign.

Sentenced Sept. 12 were Kevin Kjonaas, Lauren Gazzola, and Jacob Conroy. Kjonaas, the former president of SHAC USA, was sentenced to 72 months in prison; Gazzola, the group's campaign coordinator, to 52 months in prison; and Conroy, a coordinator and SHAC USA's Web site manager, to 48 months in prison.

In separate hearings later that month, Joshua Harper, Andrew Stepanian, and Darius Fullmer were sentenced. Harper, SHAC USA's West Coast coordinator, and Stepanian, the organization's New York coordinator, each received a 36-month prison sentence, and Fullmer, a conspirator, received a one-year sentence.

In March, a federal jury convicted SHAC USA and the six members for their roles in a campaign to terrorize officers, employees, and shareholders of Huntingdon (see JAVMA, April 15, 2006, page 1167). Activists used the same tactics against other companies and their employees for doing business with Huntingdon.

Kjonaas, Gazzola, Conroy, and SHAC USA itself were each convicted on all six counts of the indictment, including conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, as well as other charges, including interstate stalking, in their campaign against Huntingdon. The law equates harassment and intimidation with acts of terrorism and carries a maximum sentence of up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Huntingdon Life Sciences is an international research firm headquartered in the United Kingdom with an office in East Millstone, N.J. SHAC and its U.S. branch have been trying to force Huntingdon out of business for several years.

The stated goal of SHAC USA was to drive Huntingdon out of business through its direct action against the company and specific individuals. The animal rights group directed its campaign via its Web sites, where it posted and applauded acts of harassment, intimidation, vandalism, and violence against Huntingdon, its employees, and others.

The SHAC USA Web sites, which have since been shut down, also encouraged and incited members and followers to target companies and employees that did business with Huntingdon, in an attempt to get those companies to end their business relationships with the research company.

At trial, the defendants attempted to disassociate themselves from the violent, threatening, and intimidating tactics of SHAC USA. They also argued that much of their conduct was protected free speech. The jury rejected these arguments in finding all of the defendants guilty.

"There is nothing legitimate about inciting violence and intimidation against innocent people or companies conducting lawful business," said U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie in a statement. "These are appropriately long prison sentences that should deter others from crossing the line from lawful protest to criminal conduct."