Department of Justice seal U.S. Department of Justice

Debra W. Yang
United States Attorney
Central District of California

United States Courthouse
312 North Spring Street
Los Angeles, California 90012

April 18, 2005
For Information, Contact Public Affairs
Thom Mrozek (213) 894-6947


Los Angeles, CA - A man who was a graduate physics student at the California Institute of Technology was sentenced today to 100 months in federal prison for his conviction last year on a series of arson charges related to firebomb attacks on sport utility vehicles in the San Gabriel Valley.

William Jensen Cottrell, 24, who most recently lived in Pasadena, was sentenced this afternoon by United States District Judge Gary Klausner. In addition to the prison term, Judge Klausner ordered Cottrell to pay $3.5 million in restitution to the victims of the arson, including Ziad Al Hassen, the owner of Clippinger Hummer in West Covina.

During today's sentencing hearing, Judge Klausner enhanced Cottrell's sentence, finding that the defendant was subject to a federal sentencing provision relating to domestic terrorism. Judge Klausner said there was "no question" that the attacks were designed to intimidate and influence decisions of American consumers.

Cottrell was convicted in November 2004 by a federal jury that deliberated for less than one day before returning guilty verdicts on one count of conspiracy and seven counts of arson. The jury determined that Cottrell participated in a series of attacks during the early morning hours of August 22, 2003. Cottrell and two as-yet-uncharged co-conspirators struck four car dealerships and several privately owned vehicles. Approximately 125 vehicles and one commercial building were damaged or destroyed by paint and fire.

Approximately one month after the attacks, Cottrell, using an alias, sent several e-mails to the Los Angeles Times that claimed responsibility for the SUV firebombings and stated his affiliation with the Earth Liberation Front. In the messages, Cottrell offered specific details of the attacks to prove his involvement and emphasized his support of ELF actions. These e-mails led investigators to Cottrell.

Cottrell has claimed that he suffered from a mild form of autism called Asperger's Syndrome. During today's sentencing hearing, prosecutors played a tape recording of a jail house conversation Cottrell had with his mother, in which he says "the whole field of psychology is a myth" and that he could not possess books on Asperger's Syndrome because that would suggest that he was "faking it, whereas my attorney seems to think I am doing a pretty good job without that."

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the West Covina Police Department; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.


Release No. 05-059

Return to the 2005 Press Release Index

Return to the Home Page