PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – Closing arguments Tuesday in the trial of the final defendants accused of illegally occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge highlighted the difficulties prosecutors had in proving the same conspiracy charges in the first trial, which ended with the surprise acquittal of the leaders.
The federal jury this week is expected to announce verdicts in the second trial over the 41-day occupation. The jury will determine whether anyone will face felony consequences for the armed occupation that left one man dead, caused $6 million in damages, and deeply disrupted the rural community that surrounds the refuge.
Four men – Jason Patrick, Duane Ehmer, Jake Ryan and Darryl Thorn – are the last of the 26 indicted who have not yet pleaded guilty, been acquitted or had their charges dropped.
After the jury decides the felony conspiracy, gun and property charges, U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown will rule on the misdemeanor trespassing charges the government added after seven defendants were acquitted in the first trial.
The government’s closing arguments Tuesday appeared crafted to address deficiencies jurors described after the first trial. Two jurors told reporters the government had not proved that the occupiers intended to impede federal workers.
Arguments in the first trial stretched to five weeks, filled with political and religious rhetoric.
Defense attorneys detailed the political beliefs of Ammon Bundy and his followers, including their claim that a sheriff had the power to stop federal marshals from taking ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond to prison; that the federal government cannot legally own land; and presenting a slideshow on their claim that the occupation would result in local citizens taking legal ownership of the refuge.
Bundy spent three tearful days on the stand, describing his devotion to his family, his country and his politics and claiming that the occupation was a divinely inspired battle against government tyranny.
Amid all that, the actual charges – that the occupiers used force, intimidation or threats in a conspiracy to keep federal employees from working – seemed to fade into the background.
In contrast, arguments in the current trial lasted only two weeks. Bundy testified briefly. He declined to delve into his politics and religion as he did during the first trial and said he barely knew the four remaining defendants.
In closing arguments during the first trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight told the jury the government was not required to show evidence of the defendants’ force, intimidation or threats against refuge employees.
He said the occupiers were free to believe anything they wanted, so long as they didn’t act on those beliefs in a way that broke the law.
For each of the seven defendants in the first trial, Knight listed a handful of actions that applied to a variety of potential wrongdoing. Some examples were based in legal theory, others were not. He concluded his discussion of each defendant by saying they could not conspire to keep federal employees from working.