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Judi Bari After 12 Years, Judi Bari Has Her Day In Court

by Nicholas Wilson

report on Judi Bari vs. FBI trial
More than five years after her death and nearly a dozen years since the FBI blamed her for the bomb that nearly killed her, Judi Bari at last had her day in court. It was the most emotional moment in the six week trial, and left jurors often in tears. But the jury were not allowed to learn of the events surrounding the videotaped deposition, including FBI defense counsel Joseph Sher's bullying remark that the dying Bari was "faking cancer."

Near the end of the trial in the federal lawsuit that Bari and Darryl Cherney filed in 1991, jurors saw and heard Bari in three videotapes: One showed her in action, speaking to workers at logging demonstrations. Another was a short compilation of TV news coverage of the 1990 bombing incident and the subsequent police and FBI charges. And finally, there was Bari's deposition testimony videotaped just one month before her 1997 death from breast cancer.

Judi Bari with bullhorn 1989
Judi Bari speaks to mill workers at a 1989 demonstration in this video shown to the jury

The action video shows Bari at her pre-bombing peak as an Earth First! organizer. She is speaking to workers through a bullhorn at a demonstration at a Mendocino County wood-chipping plant. Her message is that unsustainable corporate logging policies are costing timber workers their future jobs. "We're not here to protest loggers or mill workers, or any Louisiana Pacific employees," Bari tells them, adding that they are not responsible for LP logging practices, and they know the problems those practices cause. "(LP president) Harry Merlo is the ultimate tree Nazi," Bari said. "He wants to cut every last tree and implement 'The Final Solution' of waferboard in our county." (Waferboard is a product made by chipping substandard and undersized trees and gluing the chips back together into panels and boards.) Bari continues: "LP just closed down the Potter Valley sawmill in the next valley over from here. That sawmill employed 136 people. Subsequently they opened up this chip plant here and it employs 15." Bari ends her speech with the motto: "Harry Merlo last; Earth First!" Then she and Darryl Cherney sing a protest song written for the occasion, "The Potter Valley Mill."

The TV news tape begins with footage showing Bari moaning in pain as she is removed from her bombed car as commentators report that the FBI says she and Cherney were knowingly transporting the bomb. The next day reports said a police search of Bari's home turned up "hard evidence" that she built the bomb. Lt. Mike Sims, a defendant, tells a press conference that police experts conclude from the location of the bomb behind the driver's seat that Bari and Cherney knew it was in the car. A report says bail was enhanced to $100,000 for each of them. Another story reports police say there is no connection between the death threats Bari and Cherney received and the bombing. A report says the bomb was a fragmentation type made to hurt people rather than blow up things. Police said bags of nails were found in the car that matched nails taped to the bomb for shrapnel effect. Lt. Sims says there is strong evidence of guilt; strong enough to charge and prosecute. The Lord's Avenger letter arrives, taking credit for the bombing, but Sims says Bari and Cherney are the only suspects. Just as police finally admit the bomb was under the seat, not behind it, they claim lab tests showed a match between bomb nails and nails found in Bari's house, and they say that's the strongest evidence yet that she built the bomb. Near the end of the sequence, Cherney laughs as he gets the news that no charges will be filed due to lack of evidence. At least one member of the jury wiped tears from her cheeks as the scene of the horribly injured Bari being carried from the car was played again in a story recap at the end of the tape.


to Judi Bari deposition
But it was Bari's video deposition testimony that had the jurors' rapt attention, and brought them to tears several times. They had been told that Bari died shortly after the deposition, and she was clearly very ill, lying on a sofa, propped up with pillows. But Bari's mind was sharp and her voice was clear and articulate, living up to her self-description as the "biggest mouth around."

The 1997 video opens with Bari being sworn in by the court reporter and then questioned by her lead attorney, Dennis Cunningham. Before the camera started recording Bari's statement, however, federal lawyer Joe Sher accused Bari of faking cancer, and of seeking to give her deposition for political purposes rather than for court use.

Sher that day threatened to block the deposition as he had already done before, knowing that it would cause a delay of at least a month or so before it could be rescheduled. Bari and her lawyers knew she didn't have time for any further delay, and Sher used his threat to coerce a stipulation that the deposition could not be released to the public except for those portions of it which became part of the court record. The jury learned none of this.

Nor did the jury see or hear parts of the taped deposition where Sher and former Oakland defense counsel Karen Rodrigue raised lengthy, argumentative objections to virtually every question and every answer, making it hard for either Bari or Cunningham to maintain a train of thought.

The jury was prevented from learning of Sher's bullying and all the objections because the judge narrowly restricted what the Bari legal team could show. Also cut was the majority of Bari's deposition testimony, reducing two days of deposition to a heavily edited videotape of about 90 minutes.

Many of the deletions were of Bari telling what she had learned about the FBI's secret COINTELPRO campaigns targeting dissident groups for "neutralization" by order of J. Edgar Hoover. Judge Wilken had ruled prior to trial that the FBI's history of misdeeds could not be mentioned, severely handicapping the plaintiffs' case by eliminating any evidence of probable motive for framing her. Cunningham vowed to appeal Wilken's ruling, but that can't be done until the trial is over, when jurisdiction passes to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeal.

"I remember trying to think of reasons to stay alive"
As the videotape began, Cunningham asked Bari to talk about her experience of the bombing itself. She was driving fast, trying to follow another car, and suddenly hit the brakes. "And there was a very huge explosion. ... I felt a huge force that came from directly below me. I felt it rip through my body. ... I was in incredible pain that I had never felt before. I knew my back was broken. My legs both were immobile at the time. I knew that my body was ruined. I knew that I was paralyzed. I felt that I was dying. ... I didn't think there could be any pain worse than what I was already experiencing, but when they lifted me out of the car, it was beyond horror. I remember trying to think of reasons to stay alive."

At the hospital, Bari said, "I remembered a nurse hugging me and telling me that they were going to put me unconscious, and that I would probably wake up with one of those little colon bags. And I remember begging them to let me die, and that's the last thing I remember before I lost consciousness." She woke up in a hospital bed, completely immobile, with her right leg up in a traction device, "and there were two uniformed police standing next to me as soon as I opened my eyes. They told me that I was under arrest, and they wanted to question me. ... I was heavily drugged. I said I wouldn't talk to them without a lawyer."

She remembered that attorney Susan Jordan came to her room, but she couldn't remember anything about what was said. At some point a reporter came to see her, and she was told no one could touch her because she was under arrest. Her parents came from Maryland, but they weren't allowed to touch her either. She wasn't allowed to see her children for over a month, or even talk to them on the phone.

Turning to the period of Bari's recovery after the bombing, she said she was in Highland Hospital in Oakland for eight weeks, and then two more weeks in a rehab center. But after that she still needed round-the-clock care and she was afraid to go home, so she moved in for a month with a friend who had been her midwife. Bari said during that time she still experienced terror relating both to the bombing itself and being under investigation by the FBI.

Some small logging company publicly threatened them
Then the questioning turned to her activity leading up to the bombing. She was employed as a carpenter, but was taking a leave of absence while she was organizing for Redwood Summer. She had been an Earth First! organizer for only about two years, but had previous organizing experience in the labor union movement, where she was a union shop steward on two different jobs, and organized strikes in both places. She learned of Earth First! from the Mendocino Environmental Center in Ukiah, near where she lived. Each local Earth First! group set its own agenda, and the Mendocino group's primary goal was the redwoods, especially the remaining old-growth. It was a growing organization and was increasingly active. The primary activity was nonviolent civil disobedience, like blocking logging roads, locking down to logging equipment to prevent operations, or sitting in trees to prevent them being cut down.

The decision to stage Redwood Summer came about organically. Someone suggested the idea. "We had a meeting and talked about it, and people were enthusiastic," said Bari. "As the person with the biggest mouth who was promoting it, I felt a personal responsibility, and I assumed an organizing role." It was not just an Earth First! project. It was a coalition effort that included Seeds of Peace, Industrial Workers of the World, Grandmothers for Old Growth, and other groups. A strict nonviolence code was agreed to, but there was no need for negotiation about it because they all agreed. Its four points were no violence, no verbal violence, no drugs or drinking, and no sabotage or property damage.

Bari told how it came about that Northern California and Southern Oregon Earth First! groups decided to publicly renounce tree spiking for all time -- though tree-spiking had never been done in the area anyway -- because it endangered workers and undermined the alliances Bari and others were building with timber workers. There was a lot of debate about the renunciation in Earth First! outside the area, but not locally. "If there was they were afraid to say it to me," Bari said.

Two nights before she was bombed, Bari went to a meeting she had organized in Willits with owners of small logging companies "to work out peaceful relations with them. We were being publicly threatened and were trying to establish a rapport and make them understand that we weren't going to sabotage their equipment or direct our protests at them."

In early May, Bari had been asked by the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors to come to their meeting to explain what was going to happen in Redwood Summer. She went to the meeting bringing written death threats she had received, and she displayed and talked about them. Some of the small logging company owners stood up at that meeting and publicly threatened the environmentalists.

Judi Bari deposition
Judi Bari smiles during her deposition
Serious looking threats had begun to arrive a month earlier, right after Bari and Cherney went with Louisiana Pacific employees to an April 3 Mendocino Supervisors meeting and demanded eminent domain seizure of corporate timber lands "so that we could assure sustained jobs and trees." A newspaper photo of her from that meeting was incorporated into a death threat with a circle and cross-hairs representing a telescopic rifle sight drawn over Bari's face.

Bari had suffered actual violence in August 1989 when her car was rammed by a log truck that had been stopped by an Earth First! blockade the day before. Bari, Cherney, a woman friend and four children were in her car, which was totaled "The truck rammed me," said Bari. "I didn't hear them hit the brakes. I believe they just rammed me full force. My car flew through the air, hit another car, accordioned, and all of us in the car ended up in the hospital with relatively minor whiplash injuries."

Copies of six of the written threats Bari had received were in her car when she was bombed, and they were found by investigators but not followed up on. Bari kept them in a folder marked "Threats and Fakes." The fakes referred to three press releases or flyers purporting to be from Earth First!, but with errors like spelling Darryl Cherney's name "Darrel" and listing the wrong town for Bari's residence. The fakes called for violence and sabotage during Redwood Summer, and were clearly intended to discredit Earth First! and undercut peaceable relations with loggers. Bari learned about the fakes from reporters, and she dealt with the fakes by explaining to reporters why she believed they were fakes. Bari identified copies of the various threats and fakes so that they could be admitted as evidence in the trial.

"I was equally terrified that I would be framed"
Returning to her experience in the hospital after the bombing, Bari said the first ten days or so she was on morphine and drifted in and out of consciousness, so she had no idea how much time had passed from one remembered event to another. Once off morphine, things cleared up, and Bari said, "I remember being very terrified that someone was going to come in an attack me." She knew there was a bomber who had tried to kill her and might yet come after her. After police guards were removed there were volunteer bodyguards who stayed with her around the clock. She was brought newspapers, and was very aware of the charges against her and the FBI's involvement. She was aware there was a battle by her lawyers to get police to show them the physical evidence, and they were not allowed to see it.

Cunningham asked about Bari's feelings in the hospital during the time when charges were pending. She began to cry as she answered: "I was terrified. And I was terrified not just because of the bombing. I was equally terrified that I would be framed for this bombing and spend my children's childhood in prison and not get to raise my children." Several jurors were wiping tears.

Bari continued: "I learned through this experience that extreme fear is a physical phenomenon and not just a mental phenomenon. I would shake uncontrollably, and people would try to hold me and calm me down and have great difficulty doing so. I experienced complete sleeplessness. I could not sleep at all. I would be awake the entire night, one hundred percent of the time. It just felt like there was a hole in my stomach. I was so scared I couldn't focus on it -- it's like it consumed my consciousness, how petrified I was. ... I knew that I was in traction and was being told that I would probably spend my life in a wheelchair, and the thought of doing that in prison was very frightening."

Bari said she knew of the FBI's involvement, because the newspapers were full of the story. "I was also aware of the FBI's previous activities in Earth First!, with agent infiltrators, and things like that, in Arizona and other places, and I also feared that the FBI would disrupt our political activities in Redwood Summer."

Many in the audience and in the jury wept
Cunningham asked how she learned about the first police search of her home. Bari answered: "My ex-husband told me that the FBI and Oakland police had both arrived with the Mendocino County Sheriff, and that they had torn the house apart and taken things away, and that my children were upset that their room had been taken apart and their toys dismantled and things."

Several weeks after the bombing, Bari learned about the second FBI search of her home from newspaper articles and word of mouth. They claimed they found nails in her home that matched nails in the bomb. Her legal team was not successful in their efforts to get access to the physical evidence in the bombing. Her ex-husband took the lead in urging her and her lawyers to use her medical condition as evidence of where the bomb blew up. The location and nature of her injuries showed that the blast came from below, not behind her as the police said. She agreed that would be reasonable, so her ex-husband organized a press conference at which he would show an artist rendition and medical evidence demonstrating that the bomb was below Bari. The second search of her home was done one day after that press conference, and the headlines that resulted from the new police claim of matching nails wiped out any benefits of the press conference about the medical evidence.

Judi Bari deposition
Judi Bari considers an answer during her deposition
Bari said news stories about the second search "were particularly upsetting. One of the headlines said 'Bomb built at Bari's house.' And the contention that I was building bombs in a 600 square foot cabin while my children were sleeping was very upsetting to me." Bari believed that headline had appeared in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. The story under the headline listed the allegations in the search warrant affidavit as though they were fact. Bari said she felt particularly vilified by the round of stories that followed the second search.

"It made me feel very powerless," said Bari. "At that time the Lord's Avenger letter had come out, suggesting that there was a bomber other than myself. And (this new round of headlines) felt like a huge setback as far as establishing our innocence and credibility. It was -- all of a sudden, we were back to day one. So I felt violated both by the search and by the press coverage."

Aside from the press, the search itself was very upsetting, and Bari fought tears as she recalled the impact on her children. "The search felt very much like a violation, especially because my children were living there and -- excuse me. I've got to try to -- my ex-husband and his girlfriend had moved into my house so that my children would have some stability during this traumatic and -- excuse me -- during this traumatic time. And for the house that they were living in to be re-searched, when they were just beginning to feel a little bit of stability again, was very hard." Many in the audience and in the jury were tearful at this juncture. All of this took place while Bari was still hospitalized, and it weighed heavily on her emotionally.

Bari was mindful of the chilling effect that the accusations against her had on Redwood Summer. "I felt that they ... were discrediting Earth First!, undermining our call for nonviolence, frightening people away, and creating a tense and dangerous situation on the front lines, where some of our adversaries now believed that we were bombers. It also took up our whole legal team, and it took up the efforts of many of our key organizers, who had planned on being there to direct the demonstrations, to make sure that the people who were coming in from out of town knew what we were about. They were taken up in trying to defend Darryl and me; in trying to organize support for me in the hospital; in trying to help us with the legal work. So it really took our top leadership out. It made me feel that this was an act of political sabotage against Redwood Summer as much as anything aimed at me or Darryl."

Even after the D.A. announced he would not file charges, the smear continued, and Bari and Cherney were not exonerated. "The FBI in particular, and (San Francisco FBI chief) Richard Held as an individual, made a point in the news media -- in Held's case it was on television -- to say that ... yes, there wasn't enough evidence to charge us at this time, but we were still considered suspects and were not exonerated. He said that the FBI now, rather than the Oakland police, was going to continue the investigation, with the assumption that we were still suspects."

Bari said she did the only thing she could to try to counter the media smear, which was to give interviews from her hospital bed. Cunningham asked if she had any success; was she getting the answer out? Bari replied: "It was like a tug of war. Yes and no. As soon as we'd gain ground, something else would come out. In fact, that was the context of the second search. As soon as something would happen that would appear to exonerate us, any favorable press coverage, whatever, some other thing would come out that would accuse us of being terrorists." An example was Held's statement, after the D.A. declined to file charges, that the FBI still considered them suspects, and would be traveling up north soon to investigate. As far as Bari heard, the FBI never looked at any other suspects.

A case of Coors to "the stud who burns Bari out"
Bari continued to receive threats, even while still in the hospital, and she opened mailed threats herself almost daily. She said she was so frightened by them that she threw most of them away immediately, but kept one as evidence. After the Lord's Avenger letter came out she received threatening letters from people professing right-wing Christian beliefs. Months later, when she moved to her rural cabin near Willits, a threat was placed in her landlord's mailbox. It offered a reward of a case of Coors to "the stud who burns Bari out" of her "Earth First! hideout." She turned the threat over to the local police.

Cunningham showed Bari a copy of the so-called Argus letter. She said she found out about it a year after the bombing. It had been sent to the Ukiah chief of police along with a photo of her holding what looked like an Uzi submachine gun, but was only semi-automatic. The letter contained a mixture of half-truths and disinformation about her and Earth First!, including the falsehood that "Earth First recently began automatic weapons training." The anonymous letter writer said he had recently joined Earth First! in order to be able to report on illegal activities. In particular, the writer said, Bari financed Earth First! by selling marijuana through the mails, and he offered to tip police when they could bust her in the act. He told the police to run a personal ad in the local paper addressed to "Dear A," listing the phone number of a detective he could call. When he called with his tip, he would identify himself on the phone as Argus.

Cunningham asked Bari if she had a belief as to who wrote the letter. She said she believed it was Irv Sutley. "The information contained in the letter is all things that he would know from a certain weekend that he spent up here (in Mendocino County). He owns the Uzi, he placed it in my hands, he had access to the photographs, and he attempted to get me to sell him marijuana right around the time that that ad was run. In November of 1988 he traveled to Ukiah to participate in a demonstration at the abortion clinic. He was staying with Pam Davis, a friend of mine, living at her home at the time. They had a camera and were taking turns taking pictures. ... He stayed at Darryl's house (that night), and we had certain conversations which are reflected in this letter.

"And also, he whipped this Uzi out of his trunk and suggested to us that it would be fun to pose with it, imitating the famous Patty Hearst pose. And we took turns posing, and they took photos. Actually, there's photos of four people: Irv, Pam, me and Darryl, each holding the Uzi. Now this photograph contains a gun that's owned by Irv, that he suggested that we pose with, and that he placed in my hands. I had a hard time even looking serious. I kept laughing and not holding it right. He placed it in my hands, and he actually lowered it, I now believe, so the Earth First! symbol would show on my shirt. So he actually posed this picture."

Bari said she had never fired an Uzi, and her only experience firing a gun was in high school with her boyfriend firing a .22 rifle a couple of times. She said it was absolutely not true that Earth First! ever conducted any firearms training of any kind.

No questions from the FBI, Oakland police
Cunningham asked Bari to summarize what was in her mind about the particulars of the political sabotage against her by the FBI.

Bari: "The attempt to portray Earth First! as terrorists, the attempt to falsely associate us with bombs to make people fear us, and the attempts to undermine our nonviolent organizing campaigns by portraying us as violent all appeared to me as efforts to neutralize a political group."

Cunningham: And today is there a continuing effect of the original accusations against you?

Bari: "Through my efforts, I think they've lessened in my community. But out of the area, I'm still perceived as a terrorist by people who only know vaguely about Earth First! I think Earth First! continues to be discredited by it. People on the East Coast, for example, if they know anything about me, I'm that terrorist who blew myself up with my own bomb. Friends tell me their parents think of me like this, for example. I also know other groups have been wary to work with Earth First! after that, and we've had to constantly battle that."

Cunningham: Do you still feel the effects of the accusations against you?

Judi Bari deposition
Judi Bari expresses relief after FBI and police lawyers do not cross -examine her

Bari: "Well, I know I certainly felt some bitterness when Richard Jewell was given a public exoneration and a $500,000 reward was put out for the arrest of the real bomber. There's never been any reward in my case, or exoneration. Overall, it's a disturbing thing, and I feel a great injustice.

Cunningham: I have no further questions of the witness.

Sher: No questions for the federal defendants.

Rodrigue: No questions for the Oakland defendants.

Bari was expecting hostile cross-examination, and when there was not even one question, she went wide-eyed in amazement, then smiled in relief. The date was January 31, 1997. She died 30 days later on March 2.

The deposition of Judi Bari, as edited by the court, is available both as transcript and as MP3 audio files from the Judi Bari website,

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Albion Monitor June 9 2002 (

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