Friday, October 28, 2016

Seven who occupied wildlife refuge facility are found not guilty of federal conspiracy charges

Defendant David Fry was released after the verdict.
(Oregonian photo by Stephanie Yao Long)
The leader of January's armed takeover of a facility at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon was acquitted Thursday, with six other defendants. "The verdicts finding Ammon Bundy, older brother Ryan Bundy and five others not guilty of a federal conspiracy drew elation from defense attorneys who spent five weeks arguing that the armed takeover amounted to a time-honored tradition of First Amendment protest and civil disobedience," Maxine Bernstein reports for The Oregonian.

"Prosecutors had argued the case was simple: The refuge occupiers took control of a wildlife refuge that wasn't theirs. The heavily armed guards that manned the front gate and watchtower during the 41-day takeover, in and of itself, was 'intimidating,' and prevented officers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management from carrying out their work. But defense lawyers said they believe the jury held true to the judge's instructions, and couldn't find beyond a reasonable doubt that their 'intent' was to prevent the federal employees from going to work."

Fred Barbash of The Washington Post looks at the implications:
“I fear this ruling will embolden other militants to use the threat of violence and I worry for the safety of employees at our public land- management agencies,” said John Horning, executive director of WildEarth Guardians, in a statement. “It is entirely possible there will be threats or intimidations from militants that believe such actions are justified by this verdict.”
Lisa Ludwig, described as a standby counsel for Ryan Bundy, told the Oregonian that “maybe this is a lesson that that’s not the way to engage with these people who want nothing more than just to be heard …”
By contrast, Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, said the decision puts park rangers and scientists at great risk just for doing their jobs and will “undoubtedly embolden extremist groups.”

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