Friend Links Suspect to Attacks

From a Times Staff Writer

A fellow Caltech graduate student testified Monday that William Jensen Cottrell admitted being involved with a group that firebombed eight Humvees at a West Covina auto dealership last year.

Testifying in the second week of Cottrell’s federal court trial, Jesse D. Bloom said his schoolmate and running partner made the admission on the morning after the Aug. 22, 2003, arson attack at Clippinger Chevrolet.

Sport utility vehicles at three other dealerships were spray-painted that night with environmental protest slogans and the initials of the militant Earth Liberation Front.

Bloom said that the normally unflappable Cottrell seemed very nervous and upset when he spoke about destroying the Humvees. He said Cottrell later asked him not to tell his girlfriend about their conversation.


Bloom also testified that he was present several months later when Cottrell learned that the FBI had seized computer hard drives at Caltech’s library, from which Cottrell is believed to have sent incriminating e-mail messages to The Times.

He said Cottrell uttered an expletive and quickly added, “I’ve got to get rid of some things.”

Cottrell’s lawyers say two unindicted co-conspirators who are believed to have fled the country duped him into taking part in the attacks.

They also contend that Cottrell only spray-painted slogans on the SUVs and did not take part in the fire bombings.

If convicted on all charges, Cottrell would face a minimum 35-year prison term.