A decade ago, college student Eric Taylor McDavid acted like he would do just about anything for the young woman who gave him money, transportation, housing and her attention.
“Anna” turned out to be a paid FBI informant who told agents and the court that he and two of his friends she also befriended were going to destroy Nimbus Dam in the Folsom area, cellphone towers and the U.S. Forest Service Institute of Forest Genetics. McDavid, now 37, was convicted after a 10-day trial and sentenced to 19 years in prison in 2007 despite his claim that he had been entrapped. His friends plea-bargained lesser sentences.
The FBI trumpeted the post-9/11 case as a blow against the growing threat of environmentally conscious “eco-terrorists”—leftist radicals who were taking deadly aim at corporate and government interests. Never mind that right-wing ideologues threatening to raise bloody hell and crazed gun nuts have been more far more prominent on the American scene than environmentalists since around 1974.
The FBI case, as turns out, was made stronger by the agency’s failure to turn over thousands of pages of files to defense lawyers. McDavid’s attorney had asked the FBI before his trial if they had files on him, but they said no.
They had more than 3,200 pages of material and finally produced “approximately 2,449” after McDavid’s attorney filed a Freedom of Information Act inquiry. McDavid’s attorney spelled it all out in a 2012 request for a new trial (pdf):
“All these documents appear to have been generated before McDavid’s trial began. Numerous pages of these records are material to the defense in that they appear to be exculpatory and/or they provide impeachment material regarding government witnesses. The records also paint a broader and more detailed picture of the informant, Anna, and her work in this case. The documents also include information regarding other informants working on McDavid’s case who were previously unknown to the defense.”
The documents include love letters between Anna and McDavid that paint a picture of intense manipulation on her part. The defense had argued that she had been the prime mover behind planning the attacks, which never came to fruition.
According to the 2012 court filing, Anna was a 17-year-old community college student in Miami in 2003 when, for a class project, she infiltrated a protest against a free-trade pact and wrote a report about it. A police officer in her class liked her spunk and hooked her up with the FBI.
They groomed Anna to infiltrate protests against the G-8 Summit in Georgia and national conventions of both Republicans in New York and Democrats in Boston. She wandered among protesters disguised as a medic, although she had no medical training.
Anna met McDavid in Des Moines, Iowa, during her assignment at the “CrimethInc. Convergence” in 2004. They bumped into each other at protest rallies around the country and she maintained e-mail contact. They drove from Washington D.C. to California in January 2006 and, according to the court filing, Anna pushed McDavid to step up his game and plan something violent.
The court filing also included allegations, based on the new documents, that the FBI had illegally eavesdropped on conversations between McDavid and his lawyers while he was in custody. The documents also showed that the FBI filed an urgent pre-trial request to administer a lie detector test to Anna, but don’t reveal why. The defense was unaware of this.
McDavid’s lawyer argued that he was inadequately represented by counsel at trial, his constitutional rights were violated by induced false testimony and he had been denied due process of the law.
McDavid was freed last week after pleading guilty to a lesser charge of “general conspiracy” to destroy “by fire or explosives one or more targets in the Sacramento area” and swapping his 19-year sentence for five years already served. McDavid waived all future civil claims.