Activist Sentenced to Two Years for A.L.F. Mink Liberation
Judge quadruples the recommended sentence for A.L.F. activist.
Calling him a “terrorist” and following through on his threat to more than quadruple the recommended sentence, judge Dee Benson Thursday sentenced William Viehl to two years in federal prison. It is the first sentence handed down under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.
Viehl was charged last year under AETA for the release of 650 mink from the McMullin Fur Farm in South Jordan, Utah after cell phone records and a car key found at the scene were used to tie him to the raid. Graffiti found at the scene read “A.L.F.” and “We are watching”. Over one year later, mink are still being found living wild in the vicinity of the farm.
After an 11-month court battle, Viehl accepted a non-cooperating plea bargain in which the prosecution agreed to recommend a sentence of 6 months. In November the judge threw out the deal, stating the recommendation was “too low” and did “not match the severity of the crime”. The sentencing was held over for February, where Thursday he sentenced Viehl to 24 months in prison.
The Sentencing: Report From Court
Court convened Thursday at 11:30am in downtown Salt Lake City. The prosecution first addressed the court. Refraining from the theatrics of past hearings such as a slide show showing firebombed cars from previous A.L.F. actions, the prosecutor made a very brief statement again recommending a six month sentence, and sat down.
Viehl’s attorney addressed the judge, also asking for a six month sentence. She highlighted previous animal rights cases where the “crimes” alleged would legally be considered more serious, yet resulted in sentences lower than or equal to the sentence being threatened by the judge (at previous hearings, Benson threatened a sentence of two years or more).
Judge Benson talked about the attention the case has received, and restated that he felt the recommended sentence was too low.
Lodder and Blackridge fur farms: guilt by association
He expressed his belief Viehl was involved with more Animal Liberation Front actions than those he was charged with, making clear he would be sentencing Viehl for crimes to which little to no evidence linked him, and for which he has not been charged.
He began this point by bringing up the A.L.F. raid of the Lodder fur farm in Kaysville, Utah. 6,000 mink were released from this farm in September, 2008. The judge pointed out Viehl was pulled over near the farm several weeks before the raid. The judge cited a police report which stated he was stopped dressed all in black, and a second occupant of the vehicle was seen stuffing a ski mask under a car seat. A subsequent (warrantless) search of the vehicle allegedly turned up wire cutters. Weeks later, 6,000 mink were released from the fur farm.
He also mentioned an alleged “attempted” mink release at Blackridge Farms in Hyrum, Utah. Viehl and a second person were allegedly followed by a mink farmer after they were seen passing the farm late one night in October, 2008. The judge stated that after noticing he was being followed, Viehl pulled the car over and approached the farmer’s vehicle to ask why she was following them. Benson pointed out the vehicle was the same vehicle said to be used in the McMullin raid.
The judge admitted the only evidence against Viehl was a car key found at the farm the morning after the raid, and cell phone records which placed Viehl’s phone near the McMullin farm the night of the mink release. He stated that even with the cell phone records, “without that key, we may not be here right now”.
Benson retreated to the emotive language both him and the prosecutor have made familiar in this case, stating Viehl “caused terror”, and that he knows of no other word for releasing animals from cages than “terrorism”.
“We have so many rights to properly change laws” in this country, he said. This was a naive or deliberately misleading statement while two SHAC 7 defendants and Kevin Olliff remain in jail for attempting to affect change in a legal, above-ground fashion through protest and outreach.
Judge: Viehl “heavily involved” in other A.L.F. raids
Consistent with previous statements from the judge, he linked Viehl to a broader conspiracy, stating he had “no doubt [Viehl] was heavily involved” in other Animal Liberation Front actions. He called him a “copycat”, and said the sentence would be aimed towards deterring future activists from carrying out A.L.F. actions.
With that, he handed down his sentence: Two years in prison, three years probation, nearly $66,000 in restitution, and no contact with the Animal Liberation Front.
With credit for time served, good time, and halfway house, Viehl expects to be released in August.
- Peter Young
Write William “BJ” Viehl:
William James Viehl
Davis County Jail
800 West State St.
Farmington, UT 84025