(CN) - The 3rd Circuit upheld the convictions of six animal-rights activists who used their Web site to incite threats and vandalism against employees of a New Jersey research center.
Six members of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty were convicted in 2006 of interstate stalking and conspiring to use their Web site to abuse, threaten and harass the workers of at least 10 companies directly and indirectly involved with Huntingdon Life Science in Franklin Township, N.J.
The organization often posted its "accomplishments" on its Web site, lauding both legal and illegal protest activity, according to the ruling. Illegal activity included incidents of supporters breaking in to the New Jersey lab and "liberating" 14 beagles, overturning a worker's car, detonating a stink bomb in the office of a Huntingdon investor, vandalizing a bank associated with the lab, sinking a yacht owned by the bank's president, launching "paint attacks" in the offices of another investor, and rescuing dogs and ferrets from a Huntingdon breeder farm, the ruling states.
The federal appeals court in Philadelphia said there was enough circumstantial evidence to support the convictions under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which was revised in 2006 to make such threats, harassment and intimidation illegal.
The judges rejected the claim that the Act violates the activists' First Amendment right to freely associate with the animal-rights organization.
The court said the government "provided evidence beyond association" to prove that defendants Andrew Stepanian, Darius Fullmer, Kevin Kjonaas, Joshua Harper, Lauren Gazzola and Jacob Conroy illegally targeted the lab and associated companies.
"While there is no direct evidence that the Defendants expressly agreed to participate in the conspiracy and further its unlawful goals," Judge Fuentes wrote, "there is ample circumstantial evidence from which the jury could have inferred their agreement to do so."
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Fisher argued that there wasn't enough evidence to prove a conspiracy.
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