Activist Is Free Again, But for How Long?
by Will Carless
Oct. 7, 2005

She's ready to wolf down some Trader Joe's soy chorizo taquitos, take a long, hot shower and then hang out with her friends.

Danae Kelley, 21, who has spent 74 days in jail since U.S. District Chief Judge Irma Gonzalez ruled she was in contempt of court for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury investigation, was released Thursday afternoon.

Kelley was set free after federal prosecutor Steve Cook informed Gonzales that the government was lifting Kelley's grant of immunity. Because her immunity has been lifted, Kelley's Fifth Amendment rights have been restored. Therefore, she can no longer be held for refusing to testify. However, her attorneys cautioned that her loss of immunity means she may now become a target of the grand jury's investigation.

Kelley's jail sentence started when federal prosecutors called on her to testify to a grand jury investigation into a 2003 arson at a University City condo project. That arson has been attributed to an extremist environmental movement known as the Earth Liberation Front.

On the night of the fire, Kelley and a fellow activist, David Agranoff, who remained in jail Thursday, attended a speech in Hillcrest made by Rod Coronado, a convicted arsonist, animal rights activist and one-time spokesman for the Earth Liberation Front.

Federal prosecutors asked for Kelley and Agranoff's testimony as part of their ongoing investigation, but the activists have repeatedly refused to give evidence, saying that the grand jury investigation is overly secretive and violates their rights under the First Amendment.

The jailing of the activists was meant to coerce them into testifying. Legally, the jail time must not amount to punishment of the witnesses. Therefore, if a defendant can prove that they will never testify, no matter how long they stay in jail, the judge is required to release them.

Kelley's release was warily accepted as a victory by her attorney, Julie Blair.

"I'm pleased that she got released, and I hope that they leave her alone," said Blair. " (but) I'm not putting it aside that this is the end of it. Who knows, they could, down the road, get a new grand jury and decide to call her again. So I'm just cautiously optimistic. Hopefully, this is the end of it and she can get on with her life."

The prosecutors, who said they cannot discuss the details of the case, could indeed decide to call Kelley as a witness before a new grand jury next spring. Alternatively, they could name Kelley as a suspect in the investigation of the arson. On the other hand, setting Kelley free could be a signal by the prosecutors that they have given up on her as a witness or a suspect.

Either way, Kelley is unconcerned.

"I'm indifferent," she said. "I've got absolutely nothing to hide. Sure, you've already raided my house and my friend's house and my mothers' house, and if you can't find anything on that, then I don't know where you can find anything."

"I'm completely comfortable and confident 100 percent that I'm not going to be indicted," she added.

The raids Kelley is referring to happened early last Friday. Kelley and Hand's North Park apartment was raided by FBI agents who confiscated many of their possessions including a laptop computer, Hand's iPod and Kelley's personal diaries and letters.

Hand said he was handcuffed for three hours while agents went through his belongings. Attorneys for Hand and Kelley described the raids, which coincided with similar raids at Kelley's mother's house and at the apartment of one of Kelley's friends, as a "ratcheting up" of harassment against the young activists.

That harassment is not likely to end, said Hand, a former Navy man, but he said either way he will continue to support his wife.

"Out of this year, since January 1, I've only been able to give her a hug for 28 days, either I've been gone or she's been gone," said Hand. "By all means, indict her, if they're going to indict her on charges, we can actually have a fair trial."

Grinning and blinking in the hot afternoon sun, Kelley hugged her husband, and her mother, Kim Quaschnick, as she tried her hardest to hide her prison clothes from journalists' cameras.

"Let's get out of here and go and get some clothes that fit me," she said, laughing.

Please contact Will Carless directly at will.carless@voiceofsandiego.org
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