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Man charged in Spence action

BY REGINA ZILBERMINTS | NOVEMBER 20, 2009 7:21 AM

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About five years after a break-in at a UI lab that resulted in about $450,000 in damages, a federal prosecutor unsealed an indictment against a Minnesota man thought to be related to the incident.

Though the Nov. 14, 2004, break-in at Spence Labs in Seashore Hall isn’t mentioned specifically in the grand-jury indictment, the nature of the allegations, location, and dates mentioned in the document correspond with the incident.

Prosecutors allege Scott DeMuth, 22, conspired with others to commit animal-enterprise terrorism and cause economic damages to the animal enterprise.

DeMuth and Carrie Feldman, 20, both of Minneapolis, remain jailed after refusing to testify before a grand jury earlier this week despite subpoenas. They are charged with contempt of court.

Grand-jury proceedings are kept sealed, but both individuals wrote on their blogs that they believed the subpoenas were related to the UI break-in.

It is the first such indictment related to the incident.

Seashore Hall, which contains Spence Labs, was closed for several weeks after four masked individuals obtained access to the labs with key cards. Responders found 30 computers and three offices damaged, as well as 400 rodents missing.

HAZMAT crews were called in to clean up chemical spills.

The Animal Liberation Front — a national animal-rights group — claimed responsibility in an e-mail message shortly after.

In 2004, several researchers and UI administration expressed outrage over the incident.

“This was not a political act or an act of civil disobedience. It was a felony crime and deserves nothing but condemnation,” David Skorton, Michael Hogan, and William Decker — then the president, provost, and vice president for Research, respectively — wrote in a letter published in The Daily Iowan on Dec. 9, 2004.

All three have since left the UI and could not be reached for comment.

But Animal Liberation Front spokesman Jerry Vlasak condemned the investigation into the incident itself, calling it a “fishing expedition” five years after the fact.

“The fact they’re using a grand jury to gather information generally speaks to the fact they don’t have any credible evidence,” he said.

That argument is a common one among opponents to grand juries, who fear they can be used to gather information rather than present evidence, and both Feldman and DeMuth have said they oppose the use of such a body.

The grand jury is used by federal prosecutors to present the charges and obtain indictments against accused individuals.

Other activists throughout the Midwest have set up websites and Twitter accounts in support of DeMuth and Feldman. One message asks the public to inundate the prosecutor’s office with phone calls.


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