Animal Rights Group Found Guilty of Inciting Violence

March 2, 2006 — -- Leaders of an animal-rights group believed they were preventing violence, but instead they were convicted of inciting it.

A federal jury convicted six leaders of an animal-rights group in New Jersey today for inciting violence and terror against people and institutions it identified as targets because of their affiliation with animal-testing labs.

Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, which goes by SHAC, has spent five years trying to stop U.K.-based Huntingdon Life Sciences from using animals to conduct research for drugs and consumer products. Huntingdon also has in New Jersey.

The defendants claimed their actions were protected under the first amendment.

After a three-week trial, the jury deliberated for 14 hours over three days before finding all six defendants guilty of animal-enterprise terrorism, stalking and other criminal offenses.

Among the six who were found guilty are Joshua Harper, Lauren Gazzola, Jacob Conroy, Andrew Stepanian and Darius Fullmer.

The defendants, along with about a dozen of their supporters in the courtroom, remained silent as the verdict was delivered, The Associated Press reported. The defendants are expected to have a bail hearing today.

This is believed to be the first court case to test the Animal Enterprise Protection Act since it was enacted in 1992, according to the prosecuting attorney, Charles B. McKenna.

Targeting Executives

SHAC's campaign against the company included posting personal information on its Web site about Huntingdon employees and employees whose firms do business with Huntingdon.

Early last year SHAC targeted one pharmaceutical company known to do business with Huntingdon Life Sciences by revealing the name and address of its CEO on the SHAC Web site, according to documents obtained by ABC News.

The document reads: "Please make it known to him -- and his family -- that living off of the blood of the animals inside Huntingdon will not be tolerated anymore. To this end, we now release information on the family of George Barrett. Use it as cleverly and consistently as you can. Remember the animals dying inside HLS this very second..."

The document goes on to list the name and interests of the executive's wife, as well as the interests of his son. The then 17-year-old was described as an "avid tennis player" who "competes in local and regional tournaments."

Courtroom Testimony

Testimony revealed that several of the individuals targeted by SHAC had their homes vandalized and received threats against them or their families.

Under cross-examination, however, prosecution witnesses admitted they did not know who sent e-mails or faxes or made telephone calls they had described as threatening.

The animal-rights group's president, Pamelyn Ferdin, who played the voice of Lucy in "Peanuts" movies as well as Felix Unger's daughter, Edna, on "The Odd Couple" TV show, told jurors in her testimony, "For the government to say you can't say this and you can't say that is going down a very scary path ... toward fascism."

Some of the defendants face prison sentences of up to 23 years and fines of more than $1 million, according to a report in The New York Times.

Indirect Targets

SHAC has also been known to target companies that have indirect links to Huntingdon. For example, documents reviewed by ABC News revealed that Wachovia Securities was targeted not because it had a direct link to animal testing but because it was the third-largest investor in a pharmaceutical company that had a direct relationship with Huntingdon. In another example, SHAC targeted UPS because of its delivery function with Huntingdon.

SHAC has also been known to pursue customers of Huntingdon. The group has reportedly caused more than 100 firms to sever their financial relationships with the research lab since 2001.

A 2005 FBI intelligence assessment viewed by ABC News said, "One of SHAC's main tactics is economic sabotage. ...They have had a great deal of success targeting HLS shareholders ... through phone and e-mail blockades."

The FBI report also called SHAC's international campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences "the most significant animal-rights crusade" in the history of the Animal Rights Movement.

The FBI said that 1,100 criminal acts have been committed since 1976 by the Animal Rights Movement and that "animal rights and eco-extremists" are "the FBI's No. 1 domestic terrorism priority."

ABC News' Richard Esposito contributed to this report.