Spence Labs break-in trial begins today
The federal trial for a man charged in connection with the 2004 break-in at the University of Iowa's Spence Lab and Seashore Hall will begin today in the U.S. Courthouse in Davenport.
Scott DeMuth, 22, is charged with conspiracy to commit animal-enterprise terrorism.
On Nov. 14, 2004, four masked individuals broke into Spence Labs and Seashore Hall and caused $450,000 of damage. The individuals released rats, mice, and pigeons from their cages and destroyed more than 30 computers.
Days after the break-in, an e-mail from the Animal Liberation Front — which the United States has classified as a terrorist organization — claimed responsibility for the break-in. According to court documents, the e-mails were sent to various media outlets from computers in the UI Main and Law Libraries.
Five years after the break-in, officials subpoenaed DeMuth and fellow activist Carrie Feldman. Because grand-jury subpoenas are sealed, it is unclear what a judge believed they knew. When both refused to testify, a federal judge charged them with contempt of court. These charges were later dropped, but DeMuth was charged with conspiracy.
UI sociology Professor Kevin Leicht said the break-in did not affect him personally, but the damage affected a lot of people in the buildings. Work was delayed by three to six months as researchers struggled to recover their data, equipment, and animals.
"It's going to be interesting to see how the trial unfolds, because it's been quite a while since the vandalism happened in the first place," Leicht said. "It will be interesting to see what type of information comes out. I'm definitely going to watch."
Leicht said all research that was affected by the break-in in the sociology department is back on track.
UI Associate Professor Jennifer Glanville said she's looking forward to the proceedings.
"I would love to see the people who actually committed this crime be convicted," she said.
She said she plans to follow the trial as well.
Both said they hope the trial will shed light on what happened in 2004. It is still unclear how DeMuth is connected to incident.
DeMuth, a sociology graduate student at the University of Minnesota, said he refused to testify before the grand jury because it would compromise his credibility as a sociologist. He said he spoke to groups involved in these types of protests for his own research but refused to break confidentiality and reveal that information to authorities.
When officials searched DeMuth's home, they allegedly found throwing knives, a gas mask, smoke bombs, fireworks, a lock-picking device, and DeMuth's diary.
DeMuth said prosecutors did not present evidence he was present during the 2004 break-in.
He has received support from his professors and animal-rights activists nationwide.
Ann Berlin, an Animal Liberation Front spokeswoman, said she hopes the trial will show people the suffering inflicted on animals during research.
The trial is expected to last two to three weeks.
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