By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
When monkeywrencher Mark Davis pleaded guilty to malicious destruction of property in last year's nationally publicized Earth First! trial, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Broomfield gave him a sentence that allowed for early parole.
Davis, a Prescott cabinetmaker who called his business The First Noble Truth Woodwork, went proudly off to prison, imagining that the mountain peasants would sing folk songs about him until he was released.
Instead, he went into "a situation where power is arbitrary and unchecked and can be exercised at any time. This is through the looking glass in here," he recently told New Times.
As it turns out, the folk song is more "Alice's Restaurant" than Alice in Wonderland. Davis, with his Arlo Guthrie coif, wound up with the mother-stabbers and father-rapers on the Group W bench.
He had been convicted of vandalism. The judge found him more grandiose than dangerous. But the U.S. Parole Commission thought otherwise and has ordered him to serve out his six-year sentence.
Because Davis had bragged about wanting to shut down nuclear plants in three states to make an environmental statement, the prosecutor tried to prove he was conspiring to cause a nuclear meltdown. The government's testimony to that effect--which was discounted in both the trial and the pretrial bond hearing--turned up in Davis' parole file, along with documentation of a totally unrelated nuclear accident. The Parole Commission refuses to comment on its reasoning for denying parole, but Davis' lawyer fears he is being punished for crimes he only dreamed about.
Davis was charged with two blowtorch assaults on ski-lift pylons at Fairfield Snow Bowl north of Flagstaff, sabotage carried out in October of 1987 and 1988. After each torch job, he contacted the media and identified his group as the Evan Mecham Eco-Terrorism International Conspiracy. In September 1988, he toppled power lines leading into a uranium mine near the Grand Canyon. Then on May 30, 1989, an FBI S.W.A.T. team arrested him and two hapless co-conspirators, Dr. Marc Baker and Peg Millet, while they attempted to cut down power-line towers leading to a Central Arizona Project pumping station. Davis' girlfriend, Ilse Asplund, was arrested after the fact; so was Dave Foreman, the Tucson-based founder of Earth First!, who may have been the real target of the FBI sting.
The CAP caper was supposedly a dress rehearsal for cutting the power lines into the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station west of Phoenix. Davis had been seen casing the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in California in his VW microbus (no doubt with Arlo's shovels and rakes and implements of destruction).
The federal prosecutor made much of the crimes Davis and company might have committed if they had not been stopped. Ironically, an FBI informant drove Davis into Phoenix to buy a blowtorch, taught him how to use it and even drove him to the scene of the CAP crime. Unaided, Davis might have committed fewer crimes. In the end, the total cost of damage inflicted during the course of all four monkeywrenching incidents was less than $52,000.
At the initial bond hearing and during the trial, prosecutors hammered away at the threat of nuclear meltdown if Davis, et al., had succeeded in downing power poles at Palo Verde. In fact, expert testimony proved that cutting the lines would have little effect on the operation of the reactor unless several back-up systems failed simultaneously. Ultimately, the five defendants pleaded guilty to one charge, about $5,200 worth of damage to the Snow Bowl ski lift. Foreman, who had no involvement beyond giving some money to Davis, got probation; Baker served six months, Asplund served one; Millet is serving three years. Davis, the ringleader, got six years. As he stood before Judge Broomfield at sentencing, he spoke up in defense of his ideology, saying that he wanted "people to wake up a little bit."
"I have stood in front of men with guns and stopped them from beating women," he said. "I have stopped robberies. I have gone up a tower and pulled a man away from a 50,000-volt line." Then he lectured the judge on the environment: "I don't want my species to die. I don't want my kids to die," he said. "We are in the process of suicide. It's all legal, but it's suicide."
The prosecutor wanted Davis to be remanded to jail immediately. Broomfield, however, was taken with Davis' grandiloquence and gave him 17 days to report to prison. Furthermore, he gave Davis a sentence that would allow him to be paroled at any time during his jail term, based on the recommendation of the Parole Commission.
Says his lawyer, Jim Larson, "He got precisely the opposite." Even discounting the judge's leniency, commission guidelines would allow for Davis' release after serving 12 to 18 months of the six-year sentence; he has served 15 already.
Davis concedes that he deserved some jail time. "I was aware that what I was doing was illegal, and I felt it was a necessary thing to do to get a point across. And I was also aware that there was a penalty within the law. But I thought they would play by their own rules."