Calif. Man Convicted of Federal Arson Charges for Participation in Firebomb Attacks on SUVs

November 22, 2004

A graduate student at the California Institute of Technology has been convicted of a series of arson charges related to firebomb attacks on sport utility vehicles in the San Gabriel Valley last year.

William Jensen Cottrell, 23, who prior to his arrest earlier this year was studying in the Physics Department at CalTech, was found guilty by a federal jury that deliberated less than one day. The jury convicted Cottrell of one count of conspiracy and seven counts of arson.

The jury determined that Cottrell participated in a series of attacks during the early morning hours of Aug. 22, 2003. Cottrell and two as-yet uncharged co-conspirators struck four car dealerships and several privately owned vehicles. Approximately 125 vehicles and one commercial building were damaged or destroyed by paint and fire.

Approximately one month after the attacks, Cottrell, reportedly using an alias, sent several e-mails to the Los Angeles Times that claimed responsibility for the SUV firebombings and stated his affiliation with the Earth Liberation Front. In the messages, Cottrell reportedly offered specific details of the attacks to prove his involvement and emphasized his support of ELF actions. These e-mails led investigators to Cottrell.

As a result of the conviction, Cottrell faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison. Cottrell is scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge Gary Klausner on March 7, 2005.

In addition to the eighty guilty verdicts, the jury acquitted Cottrell of one count of using a destructive device, in this case a molotov cocktail, a charge that carries a mandatory minimum penalty of 30 years in prison.

Cottrell is currently being held without bond.

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