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California Grand Juries Lock Up Witnesses

November 11, 2005


In San Diego, a federal judge ruled yesterday two activists must stay in jail in an effort to get them to testify before a grand jury investigating arson and a controversial speech from two years ago. The Union Tribune reports that the judge said “no” to defense attorneys who argued that enough time has passed to know that there’s no chance the pair will testify.

David Agranoff, 31, and Danae Kelley, 21, have been in custody for 45 days, and their detainment has become more punitive than coercive, their attorneys argued before U.S. District Judge Irma Gonzalez.

Defense Attorney Jeremy Warren, told the judge. “I know Mr. Agranoff will not testify. “Warren said Agranoff has lost his job and a chance to go to school, but still refuses to testify before the grand jury.

Julie Blair, representing Kelley, said her client wouldn’t testify despite “miserable” conditions in jail. “She’s never indicated to me that she’s going to testify,” Blair told the court. “She’s never going to testify no matter how long it takes.”

A third activist, Nicole Fink, has been jailed for two weeks for refusing to testify before the same grand jury.

The Grand Jury is reportedly investigating an arson that caused $50 million in damage to a massive condominium complex under construction next to the UTC shopping mall in University City on Aug. 1, 2003.

It is also investigating whether Rodney Coronado, a Tucson, Ariz., animal rights activist, broke a federal law in a Hillcrest speech that night when he demonstrated how he set an earlier arson.

The jailed activists were at that speech. Other grand jury witnesses have said the questions focused on the speech and who possibly attended.

Before they were taken into custody July 12, Agranoff and Kelley said they didn’t know who started the fire and said it would violate their free-speech rights to be forced to testify in the secret grand jury proceeding.

Prosecutor Stephen Cook argued that the government should be able to hold the activists in until the grand jury investigating the case ends its service. The panel is scheduled to finish by the end of the year, but may have its service extended until June.

“The nature of today’s hearing highlights the problem with the Grand Jury process,” Warren said. “Everything’s done in secret.”

Meanwhile, just last week a judge up in the California Bay area jailed a former member of the Black Panther Party for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating the killings of two San Francisco police officers in the early 1970s. Ray Michael Boudreaux, 62, who has worked for 23 years as an electrician for Los Angeles County, is being held indefinitely at San Francisco County Jail on the order of Superior Court Judge Robert Dondero.

Boudreaux served in the Vietnam War, returned home in 1968 and soon joined up with the Black Panthers in Oakland, his attorney said, working at a breakfast program in the schools. He now lives in Pasadena.

No one knows what the prosecution wants from Boudreaux. The special assistant attorney general, who is bringing the case before the grand jury, did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday. The prosecutor in court did tell the judge that Boudreaux is “a bright individual.”

FBI reports Boudreaux’s attorney challenged the legal validity of the limited immunity offered by prosecutors, saying it failed to protect his client’s Fifth Amendment rights. “The privilege against self-incrimination seems to be meaningless to them,” attorney Michael Burt said.”They figure, ‘We want your testimony. Testify against yourself — you are just going to have to trust us that we are not going to make improper use of that.’ It’s a little scary.”

Burt argued that Boudreaux had reason to be skeptical of any government deal. He called to the stand Jill Elijah, a Harvard Law School professor, who testified that given the FBI’s history of civil rights violations against the Black Panthers, “Mr. Boudreaux would have no reason to trust any representations made to him by the government with respect to his immunity, his safety or his protection from prosecution.”

Elijah testified that “it’s been well-documented that well over 30 members of the Black Panther Party across the United States were assassinated by the FBI, or in tandem with the FBI and local police force operatives.”

Sources: Voice of San Diego, Union Tribune (San Diego), FBI

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