Feds Say Informant Drove Bundy to Arrest Point

     PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – The man driving Ammon Bundy’s Jeep on the day the leaders of the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge were arrested was a government informant, witnesses confirmed Wednesday.
     Mark McConnell, 37, was driving Bundy and Brian Cavalier from the refuge, located outside Burns, Oregon, to John Day, Oregon, for a meeting with Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer.
     In advance of their Jan. 26 trip to John Day, the occupation leaders said they thought Palmer, a self-described “constitutional sheriff” would be sympathetic to their demands — that the federal government hand control of the refuge over to the county and release two ranchers jailed for starting fires on the federal land where they grazed their cattle.
     Oregon State Police Trooper Jeremiah Beckert told the jury Wednesday that McConnell, a government informant, was the only one of the three men who was armed.
     Beckert said he didn’t know whether McConnell was paid for the information he gave the government, and didn’t know if McConnell was a member of the FBI or another of the “three-letter agencies.”
     Bundy sat next to his lawyer in the blue jail scrubs he donned last week in protest of U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown’s refusal to let him to wear cowboy boots with his suit.
     A devout Mormon, Bundy appeared to be praying while Beckert described his arrest.
     Following the Jeep was a white truck driven by LaVoy Finicum, whom Oregon State Police later gunned down after Finicum tried to plow through a roadblock and leapt from his car yelling, “You’re going to have to shoot me boys!”
     Police said Finicum reached for a handgun stuffed in the inside pocket of his jeans jacket just before they shot him three times. He died there, bleeding into the snow.
     Deschutes County Investigator Ronald Brown told the jury Wednesday that he arrived at the scene nine hours later. At that point, Finicum was still on the ground, handcuffed and attached to paramedics’ adhesive leads.
     State police fired six shots at Finicum that day. But two more shots were fired by someone on the FBI’s elite hostage rescue team. One hit the top of the truck driven by Finicum and may have been the bullet that hit Ryan Bundy as he cowered in the backseat next to co-defendant Shawna Cox and Victoria Sharp, an 18-year-old singer whom the government declined to arrest.
     Ryan Bundy has fought to keep that bullet in his shoulder, refusing surgery to remove it and claiming it is evidence he needs to preserve to prove government wrongdoing.
     FBI Special Agent in Charge of Portland Greg Bretzing has said the investigation is ongoing into who fired those two shots and why they didn’t immediately report them.
     Meanwhile, Judge Brown has ruled that evidence surrounding the circumstances of Finicum’s death and the extra two shots fired that day are inadmissible at trial.
     But several defendants argued outside the presence of the jury Wednesday that the judge should reverse that ruling, claiming the FBI’s internal investigation could have toppled the fairness of the agency’s investigation into the occupation itself.
     Cox’s lawyer Tiffany Harris said the issue made the FBI biased against the defendants.
     “There would be a motivation to make the defendants seem like violent extremists as a sort of ad hoc or post hoc justification for their actions,” Harris told Brown.
     Ryan Bundy, who is representing himself, joined the cause.
     “Those who were there at the traffic stop, those that investigated and went through all our stuff at the refuge, they’re all the same men,” he said.
     Brown took several minutes to review her ruling before reaffirming it.
     She said the issue of the shooting was not before the jury. The jury need only consider the charges against the eight defendants — conspiracy to keep federal employees from doing their jobs, carrying a gun in a federal facility and theft of government property — and the defendants’ state of mind when they were carrying out the occupation.
     And while Finicum’s death at the hands of the FBI may have affected the final four occupiers’ states of mind while staying at the refuge until their arrest on Feb. 11, the shooting did not have anything to do with the jury’s consideration of those arrested on the day he died.
     “Whatever happened with Mr. Finicum, whether it was justified or not, does not bear on the state of mind of those arrested that day,” she said.
     Ammon Bundy’s attorney, Marcus Mumford, also tried to reopen one of his client’s core issues: whether the federal government can legally own the refuge under the Constitution. Brown has repeatedly barred arguments surrounding that question, and did so again on Wednesday.
     “Even if, in some fanciful notion, the refuge was found not to be part of the United States, that’s not relevant,” Brown said. “What is relevant is the defendants’ belief that that is true.”

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