Jury finds 7 Malheur occupiers not guilty of conspiracy

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — About 10 months after the 41-day takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a jury found 7 occupiers not guilty of conspiring to impede federal workers from doing their jobs at the refuge.

The verdict came one day after a juror was dismissed due to concerns over his impartiality.

Defendants Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, Neil Wampler, Kenneth Medenbach, Shawna Cox, Jeff Banta and David Fry were all acquitted of federal conspiracy to impede workers from doing their jobs at the refuge through threats, intimidation or force.

Some of the defendants were also charged with possession of firearms at a federal facility and were acquitted on that count as well. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the charge of theft.

Attorney Marcus Mumford speaks outside federal court after Malheur trial verdict, October 27, 2016. (KOIN)
Attorney Marcus Mumford speaks outside federal court after Malheur trial verdict, October 27, 2016. (KOIN)

The atmosphere in the courtroom became heated once the verdict was read and Ammon Bundy’s attorney Marcus Mumford began arguing his client should be freed. Some of the defendants were also charged with possession of firearms at a federal facility and were acquitted on that count as well. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the charge of theft.

The Bundy brothers are still under federal indictment for their roles in the 2014 standoff at their father Cliven’s Bunkerville, Nevada ranch.

U.S. Marshals tackled Mumford to the ground and hit him with a stun gun multiple times. He was taken into custody but released shortly thereafter.

Mumford told reporters outside the federal courthouse he was cited for disorderly conduct and resisting lawful order. The attorney, who frequently sparred with the judge and prosecution throughout the trial, said he was pleased with the verdict.

He said Bundy is now eager to defend himself in Nevada.

“This message of government overreach has got to stop,” he said. “We are very pleased with the decision we had here.”

Less than an hour after his acquittal, a motion was filed for the release of defendant David Fry who was the last of 4 holdouts to surrender at the refuge.

The Bundys and Fry were the only defendants in custody during the trial.

Gov. Kate Brown released the following statement in response to the verdict:

“While I respect the jury’s decision, I am disappointed. The occupation of the Malheur Refuge by outsiders did not reflect the Oregon way of respectfully working together to resolve differences. I appreciate the due diligence of our federal partners and stand with the communities of Harney County and residents of Burns.” – Gov. Kate Brown via Twitter

The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office also expressed disappointment with the verdict.

U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams said his office “respects the verdict of the jury and thanks them for their dedicated service during this long and difficult trial.”

Harney County Sheriff David Ward expressed similar sentiments.

“These folks were tried in a court of law and found not guilty by a jury of their peers,” Sheriff Ward said in a statement. “This is our system and I stand by it.”

The trial began September 13 and was expected to last until perhaps Thanksgiving. But the presentation of evidence by both sides went much faster than expected.

Judge Anna J. Brown sent the case to the jury on October 20. They spent several days deliberating before one of the jurors questioned the impartiality of another who previously worked for the Bureau of Land Management.

After questioning Juror 11 in front of attorneys for both sides, Judge Brown dismissed him and called in an alternate, Juror 18.

bundy-trial-sketch-3
Opening statements in the trial of 7 defendants in the Malheur Refuge occupation began September 13, 2016 (For KOIN: Sketch Artist Deborah Marble)

The alternate juror was in court Thursday morning and deliberations began once again. It took just hours for the jury to decide the fates of all 7 occupiers.

The 41-day occupation began January 2 when protesters marched through the streets of Burns in support of ranchers Dwight and Steve Hammond who were ordered to return to prison to complete their sentences for arson on federal land.

After the march, Ammon Bundy led a group of people to continue their protest by occupying the Malheur National Wildlife refuge nearby.

The Bundy brothers held nearly daily press briefings to make their points known — they wanted the federal land back in the hands of Harney County and its citizens.

But county officials never supported the plan, and a series of contentious town hall events brought emotions to the forefront.

On January 26, the Bundys and others were intercepted along Hwy 395 on their way to John Day. There were 2 cars in the caravan of occupiers — one driven by an FBI informant and the other by militia spokesperson LaVoy Finicum.

Ammon Bundy, one of the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, arrives for a news conference at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. With the takeover entering its fourth day Wednesday, authorities had not removed the group of roughly 20 people from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon's high desert country. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Ammon Bundy, one of the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, arrives for a news conference at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. With the takeover entering its fourth day Wednesday, authorities had not removed the group of roughly 20 people from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon’s high desert country. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Finicum tried to get away from the FBI and OSP blockade. When he plowed into a snow bank on the side of the road, he got out of the car and was shot to death as he reached for his gun.

Most of the occupiers left the refuge soon after. But 4 people held out — including Banta and Fry — who didn’t surrender until February 11.

Just before they surrendered, though, Cliven Bundy — the father of Ammon and Ryan, who led an anti-government standoff at his Bunkerville, Nevada ranch in 2014 — came to Oregon to support the remaining occupiers.

He was arrested by federal agents as he got off the plane in Portland. All the Bundys now also face federal charges related to Bunkerville.

In all, about 2 dozen people were arrested in connection with the occupation.

Another 7 occupiers will go on trial in February.

This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.

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