Until this week, the federal government considered Eric Taylor McDavid a threat to the nation, a radical eco-terrorist who plotted to bomb or torch the Nimbus Dam, a U.S. Forest Service lab and cellphone towers in the Sacramento region, says the Sacramento Bee. The former college student and house-framer was so dangerous that, after a 10-day trial in 2007, he was sentenced to nearly 20 years in federal prison in a case touted by the FBI as a shining example of its success in fighting domestic terrorism. The government changed its mind, conceding that thousands of pages of evidence that should have been given to McDavid's defense attorney years ago, including love notes to a young woman who turned out to be an FBI plant, had instead been secretly held in an FBI file in Sacramento until recently.
The best course of action, the government ultimately decided, was to set McDavid free. The result was an extraordinary hearing yesterday. U.S. District Judge Morrison England, who originally sentenced McDavid, ordered him released. The judge demanded answers from prosecutors about how such a lapse could have occurred. “I've never heard or seen of anything like this,” England said. McDavid, now 37, spent three days shy of nine years in custody and agreed to plead guilty to a lone conspiracy count that would have earned him, at most, a five-year prison sentence. The deal was crafted between the two sides to make the whole mess go away, and England reluctantly signed off on it.