Friday, September 22, 2023
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Refuge Occupiers Skate on All Charges;|Ammon Bundy’s Attorney Arrested

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — A federal jury acquitted Ammon Bundy and six co-defendants Thursday on charges stemming from their occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The end of the trial was nearly as dramatic as the events that launched it, with federal marshals using a stun gun on and arresting Bundy's attorney after he insisted that Bundy be released, rather than held for transfer to face separate charges in Nevada.

The jury — which began deliberations anew Thursday morning after one juror was dismissed amid bias fears on Wednesday, found ringleader Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan Bundy, Shawna Cox, Neil Wampler, Jeff Banta, Ken Medenbach and David Fry not guilty of conspiring to keep federal workers from doing their jobs during the 41-day standoff that caused an estimated $6 million in damage, and ended with dozens in jail and one man dead.

The Bundy brothers, along with Banta and Fry, were also found not guilty of carrying a gun in a federal facility. Ken Medenbach was found not guilty of theft of government property for taking a U.S. Fish & Wildlife truck on a grocery run into Burns.

The only charge the jury couldn't agree on was one count of theft of government property that Ryan Bundy faced for removing surveillance cameras from a utility pole near the refuge.

Lisa Maxfield, attorney for Neil Wampler, said that charge was a lost cause for the government.

"You don't get an acquittal on all charges against all defendants, and then re-file one count of theft of government property," Maxfield said. "That's just not how it works."

Attorneys for several defendants seemed stunned by the unanimous verdict.

None more so than Marcus Mumford, attorney for Ammon Bundy. The Bundy brothers are facing much more serious charges in Nevada over the 2014 standoff with Bureau of Land Management employees who tried to impound cattle at patriarch Cliven Bundy's Bunkerville ranch.

After announcing the verdict, Judge Anna J. Brown made plans to release the defendants who were in custody. But she said U.S. Marshals in Nevada had placed a custody hold on the brothers, since they haven't been granted pre-trial release in that case.

Mumford argued that Ammon should be released immediately, but the judge refused.

Finally, he leapt from his chair.

"No, your honor," he yelled. "He is acquitted."

"You really need to not yell at me, now or ever again," Brown said.

About a dozen U.S. Marshalls began to close in.

Mumford looked around, surprised.

"What are you all doing?" he asked.

But he kept arguing with the judge until half a dozen marshals forced him to the ground. Homeland Security agents poured into the courtroom as the judge ordered everyone else out.

Marshals Tased and arrested Mumford on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting lawful order. They released him from jail about two hours later.

Immediately after the hearing, defense lawyers, supporters of the defendants and press covered the front steps of the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse.

Several defense lawyers said they hoped the verdict encouraged urban Americans to pay more attention to rural issues.

"I hope one thing that comes out of this is that the people who have been sort of left out of environmental policy over the years will finally have a voice," Tiffany Harris, attorney for defendant Shawna Cox, said. "I hope the message this verdict sends to rural people is, 'we hear you and maybe we should work harder to make you a part of the conversation.'"

And Matt Schindler, attorney for Ken Medenbach, said he never really cared about rural issues before this trial.

"When I would hear the government say, let's set aside a bunch of land to protect the sage grouse, I'd be like, 'sounds great!' But I didn't think about the hundreds or thousands of people whose livelihoods would be disrupted. That awareness, that's what this trial gave me."

Harris said the verdict underlines the government's responsibility to charge defendants with crimes they can prove.

"The government needs to pick its charges carefully," Harris said. "When First Amendment freedoms are implicated, that's a scenario under which people are going to, as this jury apparently did, look at the evidence really, really carefully to make sure that people aren't being criminalized for their views, for protected conduct or for their speech."

Harris said the conspiracy charge may have seemed like a good way for the government to prosecute a large group.

"They picked a charge where there is an associational element," Harris said. "You can net people in, like the 60-year-old man who made the pancakes. And the IT misfit guy who probably needs some mental health counseling. And the 60-year-old grandmother who didn't have a gun. Maybe at first blush it seemed like a tactical advantage. But once you subject that evidence to careful fact-finding, maybe it wasn't the best way to respond."

U.S. Attorney Billy Williams and Greg Bretzing, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon, attended the hearing. They milled around and chatted with press while the judge waited for the jury to enter the courtroom. But both men left the courtroom immediately after the verdict was announced.

The voicemail box for the U.S. Attorney's office was full at press time.

But prosecutors announced a press conference to discuss the verdict at 9 a.m. Friday morning.

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