The only suspect ever charged, Minneapolis activist and graduate
student Scott Ryan DeMuth, has always maintained his innocence.
Under a plea bargain in September, federal prosecutors dropped
allegations that he played a role in the attack, and he instead
pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for helping in a 2006 break-in at a
ferret farm in Minnesota.
Barring a surprise development, that means nobody will be held
criminally responsible for the raid in which masked men broke into
Spence Laboratories, freed 400 rats and mice, dumped chemicals on
data, damaged computers and equipment and publicized researchers'
home addresses. The university estimated the damage at $500,000,
not including the years of research lost.
"While active investigation of the attack on the University of Iowa
Laboratory has been completed, there are still ongoing
investigations into other potential criminal activities that came
to light during the course of the investigation," Weysan Dun,
special agent in charge of the FBI's Omaha office, said in a
DeMuth's lawyer, Michael Deutsch of Chicago, said the five-year
statute of limitations on the attack has run out and the FBI
"hasn't come up with anybody." The government could still
theoretically bring charges against suspects by arguing a criminal
conspiracy existed for years afterward, he said.
UI psychology researchers whose work was destroyed still call the
Nov. 14, 2004, attack an act of domestic terrorism. They said they
are disappointed nobody will be held responsible, but praised the
FBI's aggressive pursuit of the case.
"While this wasn't the outcome we had hoped for ... the message was
clearly sent that felony acts committed in the name of liberating
animals are not going to be tolerated," UI Psychology Department
Chairman Alan Christensen said.
But Deutsch said the investigation into DeMuth, who was originally
indicted on one count of conspiring to commit animal enterprise
terrorism, was an overreach.
DeMuth came under scrutiny after authorities investigating alleged
criminal acts by protesters during the 2008 Republican National
Convention in St. Paul, Minn., raided his home and seized his
computer and a journal. In a 2005 entry, he wrote he was worried
about federal scrutiny and that "it's been almost a year since
Iowa" but did not elaborate.
Authorities said DeMuth's height was similar to one of the masked
intruders seen in a video released by the Animal Liberation Front,
an extremist group that took responsibility for the
Deutsch said the journal entry was referring to a 2004 meeting of
protesters in Des Moines, not the university attack, and he noted
the identities of those in the video could not be ascertained
because of their disguises.
DeMuth contends his indictment was vindictive, coming after he
refused to answer questions before a grand jury, and that he was
targeted because his political views are anarchist. The charge also
came days before the statute of limitations ran out.
His former girlfriend, Carrie Feldman, was detained in connection
with the investigation but released without being
"They made a desperate effort to haul Mr. DeMuth into it, but he
wasn't involved in it in any way," Deutsch said. "It just seemed
like they were desperate to hold somebody accountable. The statute
was about to run out, and they falsely accused this young man of
being involved. The FBI has put in a lot of resources to figure it
out and hasn't come up with anybody."
But UI psychology professor Amy Poremba, whose research was among
that destroyed, scoffed at the notion that DeMuth was innocent. The
23-year-old faces prison time when he is sentenced in January for
the April 2006 release of ferrets from Lakeside Ferrets Inc., a
ferret breeder in Minnesota.
"By pleading guilty to the ferret break-in, Demuth admits he is
clearly connected to groups willing to break the law," Poremba
said. "The FBI investigation was very useful in gaining information
about the population involved in these terror
Dun said the case was a priority for the FBI, which collaborated
with federal prosecutors, UI police and the Joint Terrorism Task
Force. Hundreds of interviews were conducted, and investigators
collected and analyzed extensive amounts of evidence, he
An FBI affidavit last year spelled out the painstaking
investigation, which concluded the overalls worn by suspects were
bought in Cedar Rapids, and the Animal Liberation Front may have
sent its message taking responsibility from a computer in UI's law
Investigators raided the home of an activist in Salt Lake City in
connection with the case, but that person, Peter Daniel Young, was
Young, who has been convicted in a string of incidents in which he
freed mink from fur farms, called the case "among the most
egregious examples of prosecutorial overzealousness in the animal
liberation movement's history" on his blog. He denied involvement
in the Iowa attack, which he called one of the largest and most
successful on a university research lab.
"They were able to get in deep inside a laboratory that had some
fairly sophisticated security," he said. "They were able to get
animals out, smash the labs up and not be apprehended. That was
very empowering for lots of activists."