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<nettime> update on artists' bioterrorism ordeal
J. Trant on Fri, 12 Oct 2007 21:01:16 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> update on artists' bioterrorism ordeal


What follows is the latest update in the case against against Dr.
Steven Kurtz, founder of the art and theater group Critical Art
Ensemble, and his collaborator Dr. Robert Ferrell.

Kurtz was detained and accused of "bioterrorism" by the U.S.
government in 2004, on charges stemming from his acquisition (from
Ferrell) of bacteria used in several of Critical Art Ensemble's
educational art projects.

/jt


October 11, 2007
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACTS:
       Email: mailto:media {AT} caedefensefund.org
       Claire Pentecost: 773-383-9771
       Gregory Sholette: 212-865-3076
       Edmund Cardoni: 716-854-1694
       Igor Vamos: 917-209-3282
       Lucia Sommer: 716-359-3061
       Dianne Raeke Ferrell: 412-352-2704

SICKNESS, "ABSURD" DOJ PROSECUTION FORCE SCIENTIST TO PLEAD IN
PRECEDENT-SETTING CASE
Scientist's Wife and Daughter Comment on Case

Buffalo, NY - Today in Federal District Court, Dr. Robert Ferrell,
Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate
School of Public Health, under tremendous pressure, pled guilty to
lesser charges rather than facing a prolonged trial for federal
charges of "mail fraud" and "wire fraud" in a surreal post-PATRIOT Act
legal case that has attracted worldwide attention.

"From the beginning, this has been a persecution, not a prosecution.
Although I have not seen the final agreement, the initial versions
contained incorrect and irrelevant information," said Dr. Dianne Raeke
Ferrell, Dr. Ferrell's wife and an Associate Professor of Special
Education and Clinical Services at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
"Bob is a 27 year survivor of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma which has
reoccurred numerous times. He has also had malignant melanoma. Since
this whole nightmare began, Bob has had two minor strokes and a major
stroke which required months of rehabilitation."

Dr. Ferrell added that her husband was indicted just as he was
preparing to undergo a painful and dangerous autologous stem cell
transplant, the second in 7 years.

The Ferrells' daughter, Gentry Chandler Ferrell, added: "Our
family has struggled with an intense uncertainty about physical,
emotional and financial health for a long time. Agreeing to a
plea deal is a small way for dad to try to eliminate one of
those uncertainties and hold on a little longer to the career he
worked so hard to develop... Sadly, while institutions merely are
tarnished from needless litigation, individuals are torn apart.
I remain unable to wrap my mind around the absurdity of the
government's pursuit of this case and I am saddened that it has been
dragged out to the point where my dad opted to settle from pure
exhaustion." (To read Gentry Ferrell's full statement, please visit:
http://caedefensefund.org/press/ferrellplea.html)

Dr. Ferrell's colleague Dr. Steven Kurtz, founder of the
internationally acclaimed art and theater group Critical Art Ensemble,
was illegally detained and accused of "bioterrorism" by the U.S.
government in 2004 stemming from his acquisition from Dr. Ferrell
of harmless bacteria used in several of Critical Art Ensemble's
educational art projects. After a costly investigation lasting several
months and failing to provide any evidence of "bioterrorism," the
Department of Justice instead brought charges of "mail fraud" and
"wire fraud" against Kurtz and Ferrell. Under the USA PATRIOT Act, the
maximum penalty for these charges has increased from 5 years to 20.
(For more information about the case, please see "Background to the
Case" below or http://caedefensefund.org)

JURIDICAL ART CRITICISM?

The government is vigorously attempting to prosecute two defendants in
a case where no one has been injured, and no one has been defrauded.
The materials found in Dr. Kurtz's house were obtained legally
and used safely by the artist. After three and a half years of
investigation and prosecution, the case still revolves around $256
worth of common science research materials that were used in art
works by a highly visible and respected group of artists. These art
works were commissioned and hosted by cultural institutions worldwide
where they had been safely displayed in museums and galleries with
absolutely no risk to the public.

The Government has consistently framed this case as an issue of public
safety, but the materials used by Critical Art Ensemble are widely
available, can be purchased by anyone from High School science supply
catalogues, and are regularly mailed.

PROFESSORS OF ART & SCIENCE EXPRESS ALARM

"The government's prosecution is an ill-conceived and misguided
attack on the scientific and artistic communities," said Dr. Richard
Gronostajski, Professor of Biochemistry at SUNY Buffalo, where
Professor Kurtz also teaches. "It could have a chilling effect on
future scientific research collaborations, and harm teaching efforts
and interactions between scientists, educators and artists."

"It's deeply alarming that the government could pressure someone
of Dr. Ferrell's stature into agreeing to something like this. The
case threatens all Americans' Constitutionally guaranteed right to
question the actions of their government," said Igor Vamos, Professor
of Integrated Electronic Arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

PLEA COMES AMIDST OVERWHELMING PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR DEFENDANTS

The plea bargain agreement comes at a time of overwhelming public
support for the two defendants. A film about the case, Strange
Culture - directed by Lynn Hershman Leeson and featuring Tilda
Swinton (Chronicles of Narnia, Michael Clayton), Thomas Jay Ryan
(Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), and Peter Coyote (E.T.,
Erin Brockovich) - has drawn widespread critical praise and public
interest, with screenings in dozens of U.S. cities after its selection
to open both the 2007 Human Rights Watch International Film Festival
and the Berlin International Film Festival documentary section. An
October 1 screening of the film at the Museum of Modern Art in New
York City drew a crowd of 400 who stayed for an hour afterward for a
discussion with Professor Kurtz, director Hershman Leeson, and actress
Tilda Swinton. Special benefit screenings of the film in numerous
cities have raised thousands of dollars to offset the two defendants'
escalating legal costs.

BACKGROUND TO THE CASE

The legal nightmare of renowned scientist Dr. Robert Ferrell
and artist and professor Dr. Steven Kurtz began in May 2004.
Professor Kurtz and his late wife Hope were founding members of
the internationally exhibited art and theater collective Critical
Art Ensemble. Over the past decade cultural institutions worldwide
have commissioned and hosted Critical Art Ensemble's participatory
theater projects that help the general public understand biotechnology
and the many issues surrounding it. In May 2004 the Kurtzes were
preparing a project examining genetically modified agriculture for
the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, when Hope Kurtz died of
heart failure. Detectives who responded to Professor Kurtz's 911 call
deemed the couple's art suspicious, and called the FBI. Within hours
the artist was illegally detained as a suspected "bioterrorist" as
dozens of federal agents in Hazmat suits sifted through his work and
impounded his computers, manuscripts, books, his cat, and even his
wife's body.

CASE DEPLETES PUBLIC AND PRIVATE RESOURCES

The government has pursued this case relentlessly for three and a
half years, spending enormous amounts of public resources. Most
significantly, the legal battle has exhausted the financial,
emotional, and physical resources of Ferrell and Kurtz; as well as
their families and supporters. The professional and personal lives of
both defendants have suffered tremendously. A trial date has not yet
been established.


For more information about the case, including extensive
documentation, please visit http://caedefensefund.org

                            ###





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