Image: Pamelyn Ferdin
Jose F. Moreno  /  AP file
Animal activist Pamelyn Ferdin, once a child star who was the voice of Lucy in "Peanuts" movies, is the president of New Jersey-based Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty. She was not charged.
updated 3/2/2006 5:52:53 PM ET 2006-03-02T22:52:53

An animal-rights group and six members were convicted Thursday of using their Web site to incite threats, harassment and vandalism against a company that tests drugs and household products on animals.

The group, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, maintained its actions were protected under the First Amendment.

The government charged that SHAC waged a five-year campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences, posting on its Web site information about the lab’s employees and those who do business with Huntingdon, including their home phone numbers, addresses and where their children attended school.

Many of those people saw their homes vandalized, and they and their families received threatening e-mails, faxes and phone calls. Many were also besieged by protesters parading with photos of mutilated animals and screaming “Puppy killer!” through megaphones at all hours outside their homes.

One woman said she received an e-mail threatening to cut her 7-year-old son open and stuff him with poison. A man said he was showered with glass as people smashed all the windows of his home and overturned his wife’s car.

Charged with inciting harassment
The defendants were not accused of directly making threats or carrying out vandalism. Instead, they were charged with inciting the harassment with their Internet postings.

SHAC, based in Philadelphia, and six of its members were charged with animal enterprise terrorism, stalking and other offenses. The charges carry two to five years in prison and fines up to $250,000.

Mike Caulfield, Huntingdon’s general manager, said the verdict was “a victory for democracy, research and patients.”

“The government and this jury have sent a strong message to those who would ignore the democratic process and resort to criminal activity to advance their political views,” Caulfield said in a statement.

The federal jury deliberated over three days after a three-week trial.

The defense rested after just one day, and used testimony from the group’s president, Pamelyn Ferdin, a former child star who was the voice of Lucy in the “Peanuts” movies and played Felix Unger’s daughter Edna on TV’s “The Odd Couple.” She was not charged.

“For the government to say you can’t say this and you can’t say that is going down a very scary path of going toward fascism,” she told the jury.

Ferdin became leader of the group in 2004 after its former president, Kevin Kjonaas, and the others were indicted.

Defendant says throwing rocks is OK
Also testifying was one of the defendants, Joshua Harper, who said that he opposes injuring any life form, including humans. But he also said it is all right to throw rocks through someone’s window as long as the person isn’t home.

Many of the targets of the harassment testified that they started looking over their shoulders when walking or driving, changed their phone numbers or even moved. Some kept their children from playing outdoors, and several bought guns.

Sally Dillenback said her young son would often crouch by the door brandishing a 5-inch kitchen knife when the doorbell rang, promising to protect his mommy.

“He told me not to worry,” she testified. “He said he was going to get the animal people. Once I found him at the garage door with a knife. That was his state of mind. He was a 7-year-old boy.”

Dillenback broke into tears as she recounted an anonymous e-mail that threatened to cut open her son and fill him with poison “the way Huntingdon does with the animals.”

Marian Harlos testified she got late-night calls in which someone asked: “Are you scared? Do you think the puppies should be scared?”

She said masked protesters parked down the street from her house, videotaping her comings and goings. They barged into her office, screaming and tossing leaflets, and others ruined the rear door with glue and animal stickers, she said.

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