Rodney Coronado, a former ALF operative who served 4 years for having torched a lab at Michigan State University and self-appointed spokesman for ELF has been found guilty in Arizona for trying to disrupt mountain lion hunts, and faces a possible six year jail sentence.
Two animal activists affiliated with Earth First were convicted Tuesday on one felony and two misdemeanor counts related to their March 2004 disruption of a mountain lion hunt in Sabino Canyon.
Rodney Coronado, 39, of Tucson, and Matthew Crozier, 33, of Sedona, could be imprisoned for more than six years if maximum sentences are imposed.
Coronado is a convicted arsonist and well-known spokesman for forceful action on behalf of animal rights and environmental causes.
Crozier joined Coronado in spreading false scents and pulling up a sensor and trap during a hunt for problem lions in the then-closed canyon.
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In addition to his imprisonment for setting fire to a mink researcher's offices at Michigan State University in 1992, Coronado has claimed responsibility for sinking two whaling boats and damaging a processing plant in Iceland in 1986. He recently appeared on "60 Minutes" defending those who use tools such as arson to fight urban sprawl and animal abuse.
Mr. Coronado does take pride in his work . . . a true craftsman.
After the verdict, Coronado said he is still most saddened that one lion was "imprisoned" and four others killed in the period following his arrest.
"From the get-go, this was always about doing right by the mountain lions," he said.
Coronado was arrested in Sabino Canyon on March 24, 2004, along with Esquire magazine writer-at-large John Richardson, whose confiscated tape recordings of the group's movement provided the basis for the case against Crozier and Coronado.
Richardson, who was not tried with the other two, faces one misdemeanor count of interfering with a forest officer.
Crozier and Coronado were convicted of that misdemeanor, another of depredation of government property, and a felony count of conspiracy to impede or injure an officer of the United States.
Sabino Canyon was closed to public use on March 9, 2004, after wildlife biologists warned that an increasing number of human/mountain lion encounters had made the popular hiking area, visited by 1.3 million a year, dangerous.
The closure order, signed by a deputy Coronado National Forest administrator, was later found to be invalid and charges of trespassing against the three men were dropped.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department, which has authority over wildlife in Arizona, at first planned to hunt and shoot the three or four "problem lions" believed to be in the area.
After a public outcry, and under pressure from Gov. Janet Napolitano, Game and Fish decided to trap the lions and send them to an animal shelter.
Crozier, Coronado and Richardson entered the canyon in the early morning of March 24, 2004.
Their intent, voiced in Richardson's tapes and in media appearances by Coronado played for the jury, was to disrupt the hunters — to use mountain lion urine to create a false trail for the tracking dogs and to locate and pull up snares set by the trapper.
At one point in the tape, Richardson reports that Coronado says the governor is wavering and might call off the hunt completely if the group can buy the lions some time.
After the three were spotted in the canyon by authorities, they fled, but Coronado and Richardson were caught by agents who located them by using a helicopter that was standing by to transport trapped lions.
The helicopter pilot and a U.S. Forest Service agent with him both testified that they saw the men "digging" at a trap, though they gave different accounts of how many of the men were involved.
Though both defense and prosecuting attorneys said the trial was about the crimes and not about lions or First Amendment freedoms, much of the argument was waged on those points.
Coronado's attorney, Antonio Felix, said after the verdict that the jury may have been influenced by "evidence that didn't need to be there" concerning the danger posed by mountain lions.
Felix also said it was unfair to use Richardson's tape recordings because the defense had no chance to examine him because he is a defendant in an upcoming proceeding.
The tape recordings were crucial to the prosecution. Prosecutor Kleindienst, in his closing argument, told the jury that "there is a smoking gun in this case and it's John Richardson's tapes."
Gerry Perry, regional supervisor for Arizona Game and Fish, said it "looks like justice was served. We tried to do the right thing for the lions, also to do what's right for people. If we make the wrong decision and somebody gets hurt, we have to live with those decisions and I don't ever want to go through that again."
Ben Pachano, an organizer with Chuk:shon Earth First, said, "I don't think Rod and Matt were guilty of what they were charged with. That said, we never denied that Earth First wanted to sabotage that mountain lion hunt. We certainly don't regret any of that."
Well, there you have it. PeTA picked up $45,000 of Mr. Coronado's legal expenses, and "loaned" his father an additional $25,000, when Rodney was charged with and served time for the Michigan State University arson in the '90's.
Those unfamiliar with the events surrounding that case might enjoy reading the government's sentencing memorandum (pdf), especially pages 8 and 9 (including the footnote on page 9) to convince themselves of the close association between Mr. Coronado and PeTA . . ..