Feds Score Guilty Verdicts Over Oregon Refuge Takeover

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – A federal jury on Friday found two men guilty of felony conspiracy charges in the second trial over the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The jury found Jason Patrick and Darryl Thorn guilty of conspiracy to prevent federal employees from going to work at the refuge. Ammon Bundy and the other leaders of the 41-day occupation were acquitted of the same charges this past October.

Thorn was also found guilty of possessing guns in a federal facility. The other two defendants in this trial, Duane Ehmer and Jake Ryan, were found guilty of depredation of government property for using an excavator to dig two large trenches on the refuge.

Standing in the lobby of the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse after the verdict was read, Patrick reiterated the claim that the occupation was a political protest, not an armed attempt to threaten anyone.

“From now on, wherever I go I’m a convicted felon,” Patrick said. “Why? Because I told the government they were wrong. In a loud enough voice that the whole world heard it.”

But he told Courthouse News there was a “silver lining” to his new status as a felon.

“The purpose of all of this is change,” Patrick said. “If there’s a 100 percent acquittal, everything stays the same. If you don’t have a guilty verdict, you don’t have an appeal. If you don’t have an appeal, you can’t make change.”

In a press conference after the announcement of the verdict, U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams said the defendants’ political beliefs didn’t justify the armed occupation.

“Taking up arms because you do not like how things are being done can never be accepted as a lawful way to protest,” Williams said. “Folks have an absolute right to disagree with land management policies. But the fact is, the majority of folks who live in rural America understand that the way to resolve those issues is to get involved. There is a democratic process in place for them to raise their concerns and challenge the government through their involvement and their own elected officials. They don’t have to do it at the end of a gun.”

Prosecutors said they hadn’t yet determined the length of the sentences they would pursue. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum of six years in prison.

Matt Schindler, a federal defender who secured the acquittal of Ken Medenbach during the first trial over the occupation, said the guilty verdicts in the second case didn’t surprise him. He said in an interview that the prosecution clearly benefitted from getting a second shot at the same charges.

“They were able to refine the case,” Schindler said. “They knew exactly what the defense was going to be and exactly what the lawyers were going to try and do. And then you were also just dealing with a different dynamic in the room. Without Ammon there, without Ryan Bundy there. I think that made a difference. I didn’t feel the same kind of energy that I felt when we were trying the case last fall.”

For Ehmer, who was often pictured during the occupation riding his horse, Hellboy, the math was pretty simple.

“I was there at the refuge and I rode my horse on a game refuge and now I’m a felon,” Ehmer said.

And his plans going forward are pretty simple too.

“I’m headed home to go ride my pony for a couple months,” Ehmer said. “And then I’m gonna take my mom fishing. That’s about it.”