Defendants in armed standoff at Oregon wildlife refuge found not guilty
Ore. — The leaders of an armed group that took over a national wildlife
refuge in rural Oregon have been found not guilty of conspiracy and
possession of firearms at a federal facility.
Full coverage of the feud between the Bundy family and the BLM
A jury on Thursday exonerated brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy and five others of conspiring to impede federal workers from their jobs at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Some of the defendants also were charged with possession of firearms at a federal facility and were acquitted on that count as well.
The standoff began Jan. 2 and lasted nearly six weeks, bringing new attention to a long-running dispute over control of federal lands in the U.S. West.
The Bundys are still facing charges in Nevada stemming from a high-profile 2014 standoff with federal agents trying to round up their father Cliven Bundy’s cattle.
Jurors in the trial earlier Thursday sent a note to the judge saying they’ve reached a consensus on all but one charge.
The jury also told the judge on that further deliberations would not help them agree on that charge, which wasn’t disclosed.
An alternate juror arrived at the federal courthouse in Portland on Thursday, allowing deliberations to resume in the trial of Ammon Bundy and six co-defendants who took over a federal wildlife refuge.
The woman from central Oregon known as Juror No. 18 replaced a man who was dismissed after his impartiality was questioned.
U.S. District Judge Anna Brown welcomed the new juror Thursday, and reminded the remaining jurors to disregard past deliberations and start over. She told them not to discuss why the alternate was needed.
The jury was in its fourth day of deliberations when Brown stopped them Wednesday.
Led by Bundy, the defendants were part of a group that occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge last winter. They were charged with conspiring to impede Interior Department employees from doing their jobs, through force, threat or intimidation.
The defendants said they were engaging in a peaceful protest, pressing their case against federal control of Western lands and the imprisonment of two ranchers convicted of setting fires.
The jury is also deciding whether four of them are guilty of possessing a firearm in a federal facility. Two defendants, Ryan Bundy and Kenneth Medenbach, were charged with theft of government property.
Though the jury process is secret, the decision of one juror to complain about another shows conflict.
Moreover, jurors sent a note to the judge Tuesday that asked: “If we are able to agree on a verdict for three of the defendants, but are at a standoff for the others, does our decision for the three stand?”
That note and the days of deliberation brought optimism to the defense.
“A very quick verdict almost always means a verdict for the government,” said Matthew Schindler, an attorney representing Medenbach.
“The level of deliberation that’s been undertaken in this case means we have jurors who are very interested in applying the burden of proof and making sure a complicated allegation of conspiracy has actually been proved in this case. It’s not as simple as showing that people were at the refuge.”