But Feds Still Killed One
The seven leaders of an armed group who took over a wildlife refuge in Oregon earlier this year were all found not guilty Thursday of conspiracy and possession of firearms at a federal facility.
A jury exonerated brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy and five other co-defendants of conspiring to block federal workers from their jobs at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in a standoff that began Jan. 2 and lasted almost six weeks.
The situation became so tense in the courtroom Thursday that authorities tackled and arrested one of the lawyers who balked that his client, Ammon Bundy, should be freed. Bundy is being held on other charges.
Defendant Ken Medenbach, who was not in the courtroom for the verdict and had been away for medical treatment, began crying when informed of the news over the telephone.
“It’s wonderful – the holy spirit has been listening to our prayers,” Medenbach said. “The people have spoken.”
The other defendants were: Neil Wampler, Shawna Cox, Jeff Banta and David Fry.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown expressed disappointment in the jury’s decision.
“The occupation of the Malheur Refuge by outsiders did not reflect the Oregon way of respectfully working together to resolve differences,” Brown said in a statement. “I appreciate the due diligence of our federal partners and stand with the communities of Harney County and residents of Burns,” she said, referring to the area where the standoff took place.
The U.S. attorney for the region also expressed disappointment.
“While we had hoped for a different outcome, we respect the verdict of the jury and thank them for their dedicated service during this long and difficult trial,” Billy Williams, U.S. attorney for the district of Oregon, said in a statement. “We strongly believe that this case needed to be brought before a Court, publicly tried, and decided by a jury,” he said.
Harney County Judge Steve Grasty, who once criticized the Bundys for failing to recognize the collaborative nature of land management in the area, said Thursday he supports the jury’s decision.
“I’ll always back up the judicial system,” Grasty said. “It’s run its course, it’s made its decision and we have to live by it.”
Grasty said he planned to spend Thursday night in Burns, gathering with residents and listening to what they have to say about the case.
Some of the defendants also were charged with possession of firearms at a federal facility and were acquitted on that count, too.
The standoff began Jan. 2 and lasted nearly six weeks, bringing new attention to a long-running dispute over control of federal lands in the West.
The Bundys are still facing charges in Nevada stemming from a high-profile 2014 standoff with federal agents trying to round up cattle owned by their father Cliven Bundy.
As the verdict was read, Marcus Mumford argued that Ammon Bundy should be freed, but authorities used an electronic stun gun device on him and tackled him to the ground before arresting him, KOIN and KATU reported.
Eleven other codefendants previously pleaded guilty. Seven more will stand trial starting Feb. 14.