A federal jury on Thursday found Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan Bundy, and five co-defendants not guilty of conspiring to prevent federal employees from doing their jobs through intimidation, threat or force during the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
The Bundy brothers and occupiers Jeff Banta and David Fry also were found not guilty of having guns in a federal facility. Kenneth Medenbach was found not guilty of stealing government property, and a hung jury was declared on Ryan Bundy’s charge of theft of FBI surveillance cameras.
“Stunning,” said defense lawyer Lisa Ludwig, who was standby counsel for Ryan Bundy.
“I’m just thrilled,” said Neil Wampler’s attorney Lisa Maxfield.
The jury of nine women and three men returned the verdicts after five hours of deliberations on Thursday in the high-profile case that riveted the state and drew national and international attention to the federal bird sanctuary in rural eastern Oregon.
The coda to the stunning verdict, undoubtedly a significant blow to federal prosecutors, was when Ammon Bundy’s lawyer Marcus Mumford argued that his client, dressed in a gray suit and white dress shirt, should be allowed to walk out of the court, a free man.
U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown told him that there was a U.S. Marshal’s hold on him from a pending federal indictment in Nevada.
“If there’s a detainer, show me,” Mumford stood, arguing before U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown.
Suddenly, a group of about six U.S. Marshals surrounded Mumford at his defense table and grabbed on to him.
“What are you doing?” Mumford yelled, as he struggled and was taken down to the floor.
As deputy marshals yelled, “Stop resisting,” the judge demanded, “Everybody out of the courtroom now!”
Mumford was taken into custody, a member of his legal team confirmed.
Ammon Bundy’s lawyer J. Morgan Philpot said afterward on the courthouse steps that Mumford had been arrested and a taser had been used on him. That could not be independently confirmed.
Just after the verdicts were announced, a few people came through the courthouse doors onto the steps in front of the courthouse to tell a crowd of media and onlookers.
Supporters of the defendants gathered in a joyous hug. One of them, Brand Thornton of Las Vegas, said he had been one of the original occupiers and that he has been at the trial since Oct. 2.
The verdict “means everything,” Thornton said. It’s huge for ranchers and land rights within Harney County and across the West, he said.
“We did something peaceful and wanted to stay peaceful,” said Thornton, who described himself as a close friend of the defendants and stressed that peaceful protest at the occupation was hammered into everyone from Day 1.
“This is for the people of Oregon,” Thornton said. “This was never for us.”
Wampler appeared on the courthouse steps and described the verdict as a “stunning victory for rural America.”
The five-week trial offered a rare display: Three of the seven defendants chose to represent themselves. Five of them were among the more than 80 people who took the witness stand to testify.
And one of the original 12 jurors was dismissed after a fellow juror raised concerns about his impartiality four days into an initial round of deliberations – what the judge called an “extraordinary circumstance.” An alternate juror was summoned to begin a new round of deliberations with the remaining 11 jurors Thursday morning.
There was heightened security in and around the courthouse throughout the trial, with security officers ordered to wear bulletproof vests, and metal detectors set up outside the main trial courtroom and an overflow room with a live video feed of the proceedings.
Often, supporters knelt in prayer in the courthouse corridor before the trial began in the mornings, and some kept vigil across the street, with one fellow occupier blowing a ram’s horn, or shofar, as the jury deliberated.
Updates to come.
Ammon Bundy, other militants found not guilty in Oregon standoff trial
Ammon and Ryan Bundy have been found not guilty of conspiracy. Their five co-defendants Jeff Banta, Shawna Cox, David Fry, Kenneth Medenbach and Neil Wampler have all been found not guilty as well.
The jury returned its verdict after some six weeks of testimony followed by less than six hours deliberations, and the last minute replacement of a juror after an allegation surfaced that he was biased.
The jury was instructed to disregard their previous work and to reconsider the evidence
The charges stem from the 41-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns in eastern Oregon’s high desert. The armed protest began Jan. 2 and ended when the final four occupiers surrendered to the FBI on Feb. 11.
Only seven defendants went to trial in September. Others have pleaded guilty or are scheduled to go to trial in February 2017.
Through the government’s case, prosecutors attempted to show the jury evidence about when the alleged conspiracy began, as well as how the occupation unfolded and ultimately ended.
The government relied heavily on testimony from law enforcement, including Harney County Sheriff David Ward, as well as dozens of FBI agents who responded to the occupation or processed evidence at the Malheur refuge after the occupation ended.
“At the end of the day, there is an element of common sense that demonstrates the guilt of these defendants,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight said during his closing arguments during the trial. “These defendants took over a wildlife refuge and it wasn’t theirs.”
Conversely, the defense sought to make its case about a political protest – one about protesting the federal government’s ownership and management of public lands.
“The people have to insist that the government is not our master; they are our servants,” Ryan Bundy said during his closing statement to the jury.
Bundy added the occupation had “nothing to do with impeding and preventing the employees of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.”
The occupation in rural eastern Oregon fueled a long-running debate about the role of the federal government when it comes to managing public lands, especially for ranching and other natural resource-based professions.