Sentencing scheduled for 3 involved in Ag Hall arson
A worker cleans up the rubble of the Institute of International Agriculture’s offices in Agriculture Hall on Jan. 13, 2000 after a New Year’s Eve arson fire damaged the rooms. The fire caused more than $1 million in damage.
Federal prosecutors are recommending a 20-year sentence for the woman convicted of setting Agriculture Hall ablaze on New Year’s Eve 1999.
Marie Mason, of Cincinnati, will be sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Lansing. A plea agreement memorandum released by U.S. attorneys revealed Mason is likely to face a stiff sentence due to her unapologetic attitude about the crime.
“Defendant Marie Mason … was not only a principal architect of the MSU arson, she was, and remains, an unrepentant and unapologetic advocate of violence and intimidation as a means of protest,” the memorandum states.
Mason pleaded guilty to aggravated arson and conspiring to commit arson on Sept. 26. In addition to a 20-year sentence, prosecutors recommended she be forced to pay full restitution, which will cost nearly $4.2 million.
Mason and her then-husband Frank Ambrose set fire to the offices of the Agriculture Biotechnology Support Project, which was doing research on genetically modified crops. The fire caused about $1 million in damage.
Ambrose was sentenced to nine years in prison and more than $3.7 million in restitution in October.
Mason and Ambrose were working as members of the Earth Liberation Front, or ELF, when the arson was committed. Fellow ELF members Stephanie Fultz and Aren Burthwick also will be sentenced today for their role in the arson. They each have pled guilty to single counts of conspiracy to commit arson.
John Minock, Mason’s attorney, said the recommended sentence for his client is disproportionate to past arson cases that caused similar property damage. He said cases with sentences of 20 years or more usually involve deliberate intention to commit murder.
“This case is about property damage,” Minock said. “In none of the cases involving only property damage has the Justice Department ever advocated a sentence this harsh.”
Assistants in the office of Hagen Frank, the federal prosecutor in the case, said he could not comment Wednesday on Mason’s sentencing because the case was still pending.
Fultz and Burthwick face a 36-month maximum sentence, but the memorandum states that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has called them “good candidates” for a lesser sentence.
“(Fultz and Burthwick) are essentially two people who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people, and, to their great misfortune many years later, failed to run in the opposite direction as fast as they could,” the memorandum states.
Fultz’s attorney, Larry Schulman, did not return phone messages Wednesday afternoon. Burthwick’s attorney, Scott Graham, could not be reached for comment.
Staff writer Jacob Carpenter contributed to this report.