The trial of two of the Bundy brothers, Ammon and Ryan, as well as five others involved in the Oregon wildlife refuge standoff last year came to a close yesterday and the results were nothing short of explosive. The men were charged with conspiracy related to impeding federal workers at the facility, a charge which encompassed a variety of alleged sins which took place, but the jury read out their conclusions one after another, finding each and every man not guilty. The courtroom erupted into chaos, quickly turning into a scene from a Fellini film, with one of the Bundy attorneys being tackled to the ground and subdued with a taser. (AT&T Live News)
A jury delivered an extraordinary blow to the government Thursday in a long-running battle over the use of public lands when it acquitted all seven defendants involved in the armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge in rural southeastern Oregon.
Tumult erupted in the courtroom after the verdicts were read when an attorney for group leader Ammon Bundy demanded his client be immediately released, repeatedly yelling at the judge. U.S. marshals tackled attorney Marcus Mumford to the ground, used a stun gun on him several times and arrested him.
U.S. District Judge Anna Brown said she could not release Bundy because he still faces charges in Nevada stemming from an armed standoff at his father Cliven Bundy’s ranch two years ago.
The dispute leading to the fracas centered on a demand by attorneys that Ammon Bundy be immediately released from custody, a request the judge refused. Bundy is still facing trial in Nevada over a similar standoff at his father Cliven’s ranch, so Judge Anna Brown decided he would remain in detention. Given the fact that not one of the Bundy clan has shown the slightest sign of absconding thus far, that seems like a rather harsh decision. They came to fight, primarily in court, and keeping Ammon behind bars doesn’t appear to serve any purpose beyond making a point for the media. (Additional coverage at The Oregonian)
Was this a case of jury nullification? One could certainly make that argument. The charges against the men had nothing to do with the underlying questions of the federal government locking off huge tracts of land from private use, instead focusing on the obstruction aspect of the protest. The fact that they were armed and occupying a federal facility can’t have been in question since all of the men freely admit to doing it and there’s miles of news footage showing it to be true. And the government recently tallied up the costs and damages associated with the occupation of the facility, arriving at a figure in the millions. (Government Executive)
“I would describe it as completely trashed.”
That was how Linda Beck, a fish biologist at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, characterized in federal court last month the state of her office at the refuge following a five-week armed occupation by an anti-government militia in January…
The agency itself has spent $6.3 million in response to the armed takeover. Part of that went toward relocating staff and their families during the occupation “for their safety,” Holm said. Federal employees in the area were harassed during the occupation and experienced confrontations while “grocery shopping, running errands with their families and trying to lead their day-to day lives,” Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said in January.
The extra costs also included staff time and travel to support law enforcement, as well as repair and rehabilitation to the facilities and equipment the militia members damaged during their occupation.
This decision will no doubt send a boost of enthusiasm to supporters of the Bundy clan as they head into the trial in Nevada. While prosecutors absolutely hate it, juries retain the ability to make their own decisions on not only the guilt or innocence of the accused, but as to whether a law is immoral or wrongly applied to the defendants. There’s essentially zero doubt that the protesters did what they’re being accused of in both cases, but that doesn’t mean that a jury will send them to prison if they strongly feel that the underlying cause is just.
For the time being, chalk this one up as a victory for the Bundys and a huge loss for the federal government.