by WorldTribune Staff, October 28, 2016
All seven defendants in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge armed standoff case were found not guilty by a federal jury on Oct. 27.
Ammon Bundy, Shawna Cox, David Lee Fry, Jeff Wayne Banta, Kenneth Medenbach and Neil Wampler were found not guilty on all counts. The jury found Ryan Bundy not guilty of conspiracy and possession of firearms but could not reach a verdict on a theft charge.
An eighth participant in the showdown, LaVoy Finicum, was fatally shot by police during the standoff.
Related: Lack of outrage noted as Western rancher shot down by Feds, March 4.
The jury of nine women and three men returned the verdicts after five hours of deliberations.
“This is a tremendous victory for rural America,” defendant Neil Wampler said outside court. “It is a well-deserved, overwhelming defeat for a corrupt and predatory federal government.”
Cox called the outcome “just one win” in a larger movement to change how the federal government manages land in the American West.
Dan Ashe, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director, said in a statement: “We are profoundly disappointed in the outcome of the trial,” and are “committed to the security, healing and comfort of refuge employees.”
Ammon Bundy called the takeover a “hard stand” against the return to prison of two Oregon ranchers, Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven Hammond, after a federal judge ruled they had not served long enough sentences on arson charges.
The defendants said the occupation was an act of civil disobedience inspired by religious beliefs and that their weapons were needed to protect themselves against the government.
The government’s primary charge against the seven defendants was conspiracy to impede federal officers by force, threat or intimidation.
The defendants said they never discussed preventing workers at the Malheur refuge from accessing their offices but merely wanted the land and the buildings. The defense argued that the takeover was an act of civil disobedience against an out-of-control federal government that held tyrannical rule over the rural West.
“Thousands came to his cause and his movement not to break the rules … but to try to find a way to get the government to follow theirs,” Marcus Mumford, Ammon Bundy’s attorney, said in closing remarks to the jury.
After the verdicts were read, Mumford argued Ammon Bundy should be set free, while U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown said he must be returned to the custody of federal marshals since he and his brother still faced charges in Nevada stemming from a 2014 standoff near their father Cliven Bundy’s ranch.
Mumford continued to protest and was then tackled and hit with a stun gun by marshals, said defendant Shawna Cox and another member of the defense’s legal team. The judge ordered the courtroom cleared.
Morgan Philpot, co-counsel for Ammon Bundy, said he was five feet away when Mumford was taken down by U.S. marshals. He said Mumford screamed as he was tased in the back.
Mumford was released late on Oct. 27. Ammon and Ryan Bundy remained in custody.
Ammon Bundy and Ryan Bundy are expected to stand trial in Nevada early next year on charges stemming from a standoff with federal agents at Cliven Bundy’s ranch.