Somebody sends two threatening letters to beer baron August A. Busch III, so a California animal-rights activist spends three weeks in St. Louis-area jails

Gina Lynn looked thinner, her face paler and her eyes twice as big as they did three weeks ago. Her cheekbones were clearly defined, whereas they had been a bit pudgy before. Nevertheless, smile lines formed across her face as she talked of going home after three weeks in jail -- first at the St. Louis County Jail in Clayton and then at the St. Clair County Jail in Belleville, Ill. Lynn, a 27-year-old animal-rights activist from Boulder Creek, Calif., had been arrested many times before for engaging in civil disobedience, including chaining herself with bike locks to a dolphin tank.

But this latest arrest -- and release -- has been a bit of a mystery.

On Sept. 11, Lynn was arrested by FBI agents at her California home for ignoring a subpoena asking for her fingerprints and handwriting samples. Someone, it seems, had mailed a couple of handwritten letters in 1995 and 1996 from California to August A. Busch III in St. Louis. The letters protested the treatment of orcas -- killer whales -- at SeaWorld in San Diego, which is owned by the Anheuser-Busch Cos. According to a memo filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney David Rosen in federal court here in St. Louis and obtained by The Riverfront Times, the first letter included the statement "... you will invite violence against those who keep (an orca) in captivity." A subsequent letter upped the ante a bit, asking, "... can you handle terrorism, violence and injurious acts against your Sea World employees and/or yourself."

Gina Lynn protesting in St. Louis on the day of her sentencing: The animal-rights activist spent three weeks in local jails before her unexplained release.
Jennifer Silverberg
Gina Lynn protesting in St. Louis on the day of her sentencing: The animal-rights activist spent three weeks in local jails before her unexplained release.

Even though years have passed since the letters were sent and even though A-B's own spokesman tells us no violent incidents of any kind have taken place at SeaWorld or any other A-B theme park, the letters were considered serious threats by the office of then-U.S. Attorney Edward Dowd in St. Louis. His office took the matter before a grand jury, which issued the subpoena for Lynn's fingerprints and handwriting samples. In addition to being an animal-rights activist, Lynn is a critic of the grand-jury process and, because she considers it unconstitutional, refused to comply with the subpoena. As a result, she was arrested.

Lynn was subsequently hauled to St. Louis and appeared before U.S. District Judge Rodney Sippel on Oct. 5 for a hearing on a contempt-of-court charge. Sippel had no choice but to sentence her to six months in jail for refusing the subpoena. "You hold the keys as to when you may be released," Sippel told her. "You will not be released until then."

Jennifer Brewer, the St. Louis attorney representing Lynn, said at the time that Lynn would never comply with the subpoena. "She can stay in jail two days or two months or two years and she's not going to cooperate," Brewer said. "She feels that this whole case is like saying, "If you eat a piece of meat, we'll let you go.' Well, she'll never eat meat."

And Lynn denies any involvement with the letters. "I didn't have anything to do with these letters," she says. "I am not refusing to comply because I have something to hide. I am not cooperating because my conscience will not allow me to cooperate with this unreasonable, unjustified subpoena based on nothing more than innuendo."

It's hard to say just what the subpoenas were based on, because the grand-jury process is a secretive one in which prosecutors present evidence and call witnesses and suspects are not allowed any representation. Rosen, the prosecutor in this case, won't even acknowledge that a grand jury is looking into the letters, let alone discuss any specifics of Lynn's case. "We don't comment at all" regarding grand-jury matters, says Rosen. "Gina Lynn has told you there is a grand-jury investigation. I'm not allowed to say that, even though she has."

The basis for the grand jury's subpoena was apparently the speculation of "the leader of an animal rights group in Southern California," according to Rosen's court memo, and the fact that Lynn lived in the area from which the letters were mailed. Rosen's memo also says that Lynn "had actively been involved in the efforts to have Sea World release the Orca," an allegation that Lynn denies.

"A part of me doesn't think that the (U.S. attorney) thinks I wrote those letters," says Lynn. "I think they just wanted to harass someone. I'm very well known in the animal-rights movement, and so I think they just wanted to pick on somebody and make an example of somebody -- give somebody a hard time.

"I'd say the letters can be considered mildly, indirectly, comically threatening."

If Lynn is right about Anheuser-Busch or the prosecutors wanting to make an example of her, it didn't work out very well. In fact, it may have backfired.

Within days of her imprisonment at the county jail, Lynn began a hunger strike. Her animal-rights compatriots in California, including her roommate, David Hayden, launched an effort to raise hell about her imprisonment. Hayden says protests were held at U.S. embassies in England, New Zealand and Austria; at SeaWorld in San Diego; and at an A-B brewery in Los Angeles, where Lynn's mother, Sherry Lynn Trapp, also showed up and was almost arrested.

Next Page »