PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - Militia man Ammon Bundy and his cohorts pleaded not guilty to new charges stemming from their six-week occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge - one of which carries a maximum life sentence.
U.S. Attorneys Ethan Knight and Geoffrey Barrow on Wednesday unsealed the superseding indictment they filed against Bundy and 25 co-defendants, one of whom remains at large and another whom the government has not yet named.
Outside the courtroom, supporters of the occupiers speculated about whether their name might be the one redacted on the new indictment.
Wednesday's hearing was the first monthly status hearing in the case, which has grown unwieldy with numerous defendants, new charges and tens of thousands of pages of evidence. The courtroom was packed with 17 defendants and their lawyers, tucked into three lines of desks arranged in nested "L" shapes. Also in the courtroom were lawyers for the defendants who declined to appear and a gallery packed with press and supporters of the militants.
Mike Arnold, lawyer for Ammon Bundy, asked U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown to again recite his client's rights. She declined, pointing out that Bundy's rights had been read to him at least three times in this case.
Bundy was not pleased.
"I know I have no rights, so thank you," he said.
Brown granted the government's motion to declare the case complex - a designation that the government has said it needs in order to sort through reams of evidence against dozens of defendants.
"I think anyone looking at this room would have to concede that this is complex," Brown said. "Just the sheer nature of the case, the seriousness of the charges and the number of defendants accused makes it complex."
Bundy and the other defendants claimed the designation would trample their Constitutional right to a speedy trial, which calls for a start date no later than 70 days from a defendant's first appearance in court. In this case, that would mean beginning the trial on April 5.
But the government has said the case is so complex that it could take until the spring of 2017 for it to wade through preparations for trial. Brown has already rejected that timeline, and at Wednesday's hearing she said she hoped to get started by September. She said she expected the trial to take more than a month.
In an attempt to condense the process leading to trial, Brown told the parties to file motions only after conferring with all parties involved, and to include information about the response of the movant's opponent and whether all defendants joined the motion. If some defendants disagreed with the motion or declined to participate, she said the movant should include that too.
Brown said she would designate a start date for the trial at next month's status conference, scheduled for April 6.
She asked the defendants to file input on whether they want to split up into smaller groups and have a series of smaller trials or proceed as one large group.
The new charges expand the original indictment, of conspiracy to keep federal officers with the Fish and Wildlife Service from doing their jobs, to add possession of a gun in a federal facility, use of a gun in a crime of violence, theft of government property, and depredation of government property.
The maximum sentence for those crimes ranges from 5 to 10 years in prison with the exception of the use of a gun in a crime of violence, which can carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.
And Knight said the government could add more charges as forensic investigators continue to process evidence gathered at the 172-acre refuge.
"It's a possibility," Knight said. "We just won't know with certainty until we analyze all the evidence."Follow @@karinapdx
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