A federal judge in San Francisco today ordered the FBI to preserve evidence in a 20-year-old car bombing case in Oakland, according to one of the victims of the bombing, who is asking that the evidence be turned over to him or another law enforcement agency.
Darryl Cherney and fellow environmental activist Judi Bari were driving in Oakland on May 24, 1990, when a pipe bomb exploded in the car. Cherney suffered minor injuries in the blast, but Bari was seriously injured.
Cherney and Bari, who died of breast cancer in 1997, were arrested on suspicion of transporting the bomb, but the charges were dropped about six months later after prosecutors determined they did not have enough evidence to go to trial.
The two activists, part of the environmental group Earth First!, were awarded $4.4 million in a 2002 civil rights trial when a federal civil jury decided that members of the FBI and Oakland Police Department violated their rights during the investigation.
An ongoing court battle over what to do with the evidence in the case continued today when U.S. District Judge James Larsen ordered the FBI to preserve the evidence, which Cherney said will provide “the opportunity to check if DNA was preserved” from a potential suspect.
Cherney said it was “absurd” that the FBI wanted to destroy the evidence and alleged a cover-up by the agency to protect the logging industry. Cherney and Bari were participating in a “Redwood Summer” campaign designed to stop the logging of ancient redwoods.
An FBI spokesperson was not immediately available for comment today.
Cherney said the judge today cited other cold cases, such as the church bombing in Birmingham and the killing of civil rights activist Medgar Evers, both in 1963, as examples of how an old case can be solved years or decades later.
The judge said he would rule within 30 days on whether to have the FBI turn the evidence over to Cherney or to another prosecutorial agency like the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office or the state attorney general’s office.
“We’re breathing a sigh of relief,” Cherney said after the judge’s decision. He said he and other activists will “write letters and make phone calls” to the various agencies to “ask them to consider taking this case up.”