SHAC Trial is a Litmus Test

No one talked about puppies.

For years, animal rights activists had used accounts and photos of mutilated or mistreated beagles as a rallying point against Huntingdon Life Sciences, the British company that tests pharmaceuticals on tens of thousands of animals a year, many at a lab in Franklin Township, Somerset County.

But as the trial opened in Trenton yesterday for six activists accused of orchestrating a campaign of intimidation against the firm, the issue moved beyond hidden-camera videos of animals in cramped cages.

Defense attorneys cited the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers, the 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott and the anti- apartheid movement in South Africa.

A prosecutor opened with the image of a young boy in a Dallas suburb, so frightened by protesters who had stalked his mother at home that the sound of a doorbell chime made him run and hide.

"He was cowering behind the door because he thought 'the animal people' were coming to get him," Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles McKenna told jurors.

The federal trial, which could span two months, will be monitored widely, both by members of the billion-dollar research industries who often become targets of such activity and the groups that bring such pressure.

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