Suspect in ecoterror case found dead in jail
December 22, 2005
PHOENIX – An Arizona bookstore owner charged with eco-sabotage in Washington was found dead in a Flagstaff jail cell early Thursday, authorities said.William C. Rodgers, 40, of Prescott, Ariz., committed suicide, according to the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office. The county medical examiner determined that Rodgers suffocated after placing a plastic bag over his head while he was being held in a one-person cell.Rodgers was one of six people arrested this month in connection with eco-terrorist attacks in Oregon and Washington in recent years. He was charged in the firebombing of a federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service facility outside Olympia, Wash. The arson caused $1.2 million in damage.In an affidavit filed in federal court in Oregon last week, an FBI agent said Rodgers attended a meeting of Earth Liberation Front members in western Colorado where the arson of a Vail ski resort was planned, although he had not been charged in that case.Rodgers was denied bail at a hearing in Flagstaff on Friday and ordered transferred to Washington for further hearings.Rodgers was supposed to be transported to Seattle to face the charges, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kirk Engdall said during a court hearing Thursday in Eugene, Ore., for another suspect, Chelsea Gerlach.Engdall said Gerlach was placed on suicide watch as a result of Rodgers’ death because of her close relationship with Rodgers.Gerlach’s attorney, public defender Craig Weinerman, denied the two were close.Magistrate Thomas Coffin denied Gerlach’s request for bail after Engdall said a search of her apartment in Portland on Wednesday had turned up false identification documents with her picture and materials to make others. The judge said that strongly suggested she might try to flee if released.Weinerman had argued that she should be released because the government’s case was based on the testimony of two other people who had admitted setting other fires.Engdall added that she was also a suspect in the Oct. 14, 2001 arson of federal wild horse corrals in Susanville, Calif. No charges have been filed in that case.In another development in the case, Daniel McGowan of New York City appeared in court in Eugene, Ore., for the first time since his arrest in New York. Coffin set Feb. 28 for the start of his trial on charges he set fire to a lumber mill office in Glendale, Ore., and a tree farm in Clatskanie, Ore.Jailers in Flagstaff found Rodgers dead shortly before 7 a.m. Thursday, Lt. Charlie Wong said. Lights out at the jail is at 10 p.m., so he could have died anytime during the night, Wong said. He said there had been no indication that Rodgers was depressed or intended to take his own life.”There was no indication of any distress,” Wong said. “He was completely normal.”Another Arizona resident arrested the same day as Rodgers was also being held in the Coconino County jail when he committed suicide.Sarah Kendall Harvey, a 28-year-old Flagstaff resident also known as Kendall Tankersley, faces charges related to another firebombing. She’s accused of arson against a U.S. Forest Industries office building in Medford, Ore., in 1998.The U.S. Marshals Service picked her up from the jail on Thursday morning. Wong said Rodgers was scheduled to be transferred with her.A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington said Rodgers’ death was unfortunate for several different reasons.”It was a tragedy for his family,” said Emily Langlie. “And we had hoped that the justice system could move forward and bring closure to the victims of these fires.”Rodgers ran a bookstore in downtown Prescott called the Catalyst Infoshop that friends called a combination bookstore and community meeting room. Friends calling themselves the Friends of the Catalyst traveled the two hours to Flagstaff to support Rodgers during his court hearings.His court-appointed lawyer, David Barrow of Flagstaff, said that in the short time he knew Rodgers the two became good friends.”I’m deeply saddened by this,” Barrow said. “He was a beautiful man with high principals and we’re worse for his passing.”A federal magistrate refused to release Rodgers on bail last week, declaring that he was a danger to society and likely to flee. He also took notice of testimony by an FBI agent that more charges from other arsons totaling $20 million were likely.Barrow said Rodgers told him he planned to fight the charges.”In a sense he’s denied the opportunity to clear his name,” Barrow said.