After 73 days behind bars, animal rights activist Danae Kelley is, for now, a free woman. Kelley, 21, was released from custody last Thursday after the U.S. Attorney's office rescinded its offer to grant Kelley immunity from prosecution in exchange for her secret testimony before a grand jury-all part of an ongoing federal probe of an August 2003 fire at a La Jolla construction site.
Once prosecutors took the immunity offer off the table, Kelley-jailed for civil contempt on July 12 after she refused to testify-was able to assert her rights under the Fifth Amendment, which grants individuals the right not to incriminate themselves. With Kelley's constitutional rights reestablished, prosecutors were forced to release her.
Of the 10 activists subpoenaed, only Kelley, David Agranoff and Nicole Fink refused to testify and were subsequently imprisoned by federal district court Judge Irma Gonzalez. In August, a panel of three 9th Circuit Court judges rejected Kelley and Agranoff's appeal. Fink was locked up a month after Agranoff and Kelley, and both Fink and Agranoff, who have also been granted immunity, remain in jail.
It is believed that all of the subpoenaed activists attended a Hillcrest lecture by animal-rights activist Rod Coronado just hours after the fire started. Coronado told CityBeat that he was at home in Arizona at the time of the fire, getting ready to board a plane to San Diego, and has no knowledge of who was responsible.
Authorities believe members of the Earth Liberation Front, a militant environmental group, set the fire. Prior to the grand jury investigation, no one had been arrested or detained in connection with the fire, despite a $100,000 reward offered by the FBI.
But Kelley's release doesn't mean she's off the hook. Just days earlier, FBI agents executed a search warrant at the home she shares with her husband, Justin Hand, whose subpoena was ultimately dismissed, as well as the homes of Kelley's mother and a friend.
Julie Blair, Kelley's attorney, said she fears the FBI may be preparing to indict her client. "They either want to prosecute her for this or they don't think she knows anything," Blair said. "I don't trust these investigators and they're desperate to charge someone."
John Parmley, the assistant U.S. Attorney handling the case, did not respond to CityBeat's request for comment.
Kelley, who maintains that she knows nothing about the fire, said that while she waits for the FBI to drop the other shoe, she's been forced to put future plans, including moving out of the area and enrolling in college, on hold.
"They gave me the ultimatum that, "You can either come in today and testify with immunity or you can go to the grand jury without immunity and face possible indictment,'" she said. "But I think I'm just going to go ahead and call their bluff. If they want to indict me, they can indict me-because I would love to take this to a fair trial."