A federal jury
delivered a resounding acquittal today for
the anti-government militants who occupied
the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in
January, finding Ammon Bundy and his six
co-defendants not guilty of conspiring to
keep federal employees from doing their
Supporters of the
Arizona-based rancher and his
anti-government movement wept, hugged and
waved American flags in the streets outside
downtown Portland's federal courthouse.
The verdict is a
stunning defeat for U.S. Attorney for Oregon
Billy Williams, whose legal team was unable
to prove that Bundy and his allies broke any
laws by turning an Eastern Oregon bird
refuge into an armed fortress.
It followed the
dismissal Wednesday of a juror who had
previously worked for the federal Bureau of
Land Management, a potential conflict that
could have resulted in a mistrial.
The "not guilty"
verdict capped a six-week trial filled with
testimony over the political beliefs Ammon
Bundy and his co-defendants claimed were the
motivation for the 41-day armed occupation
of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
U.S. District Judge
Anna J. Brown repeatedly told the jury that
the defendants' political beliefs didn't
affect their guilt or innocence.
But Ammon Bundy and
several other defendants took the stand in
their own defense to detail their beliefs
that the Constitution prohibits the federal
government from owning land, that the
sentences given to two Burns-area ranchers
convicted on federal arson charges were the
result of government tyranny and that the
2014 standoff at Cliven Bundy's Bunkerville
ranch was a vindication of Bundy's belief
that the county sheriff is the ultimate law
of the land.
attorney, Marcus Mumford, painted Bundy as a
valiant patriot, fighting a
David-and-Goliath battle against government
overreach. He told the jury Bundy is in jail
because of that same "dark" force.
"I hope you can see
what we've been pushing for," Mumford said.
"What do you see? Government overreach. The
government going too far. It happened to the
Hammonds. You've heard that. But can you not
see that it's happening to Mr. Bundy as
Attorney Ethan Knight unsuccessfully argued
that the case had nothing to do with Bundy's
regularly brandished pocket Constitution,
nothing to do with the arson sentences
currently being served by Dwight and Steven
Hammond and nothing to do with the
Bunkerville standoff, which is the subject
of separate prosecution in Nevada.
"It's not about the
beliefs or values of any of these
defendants," Knight told the jury. "It's
about them deciding which laws apply and
which don't. It's about a collective
decision to take what isn't theirs and make
Knight said Bundy and
his co-defendants thought the law applied
differently to them, that they believed they
could choose which laws to follow because
they were acting for the right reasons.
Bundy spent three days
on the stand answering questions from his
own lawyer and attorneys for his
co-defendants. He patiently and exhaustively
described his family life, his political
beliefs and the lack of response to his
demands from government officials, which he
claimed justified the occupation that caused
an estimated $6 million in damage to the
refuge and left dozens in jail and one man
Bundy told the jury he
was proud of the occupation, even comparing
his efforts to the work done by civil rights
activists like Martin Luther King Jr.
"When M.L.K. stood, he
made a hard stand," Bundy told the jury.
were more narrowly focused.
Knight told the jury
that Bundy and his six co-defendants'
ultraconservative beliefs about the rightful
role of the federal government under the
Constitution are irrelevant. Instead, Knight
said, what mattered was whether the
occupiers broke the law by conspiring to
keep refuge employees from doing their jobs.
"This is not about
federal land use policy," Knight said. "It's
not about the Hammonds. The government
doesn't dispute that they hold these
beliefs," Knight said. "But at the end of
the day, you can't conspire to take somebody
else's work space and say, 'You're no longer
welcome to work here, Go home.'"
A particularly jarring
moment came when Knight delivered a
blistering 15-minute cross-examination that
underscored the irrelevance of most of
Knight mostly asked
Bundy about statements he had made under
Bundy denied or
claimed not to remember events he had
recently detailed. He suddenly insisted he
wasn't a leader of the occupation. He said
he couldn't remember whether he had been in
Burns in November, after describing several
November meetings with Harney County Sheriff
Dave Ward. And he said the refuge wasn't
federal property, after outlining his
foolproof plan to wrest control of federal
property under the arcane process of adverse
possession—a process nixed by the U.S.
But his snake-charmer
manner remained. Bundy backpedaled when
Knight asked him about the legal process he
had earlier described with enthusiasm and
certainty. And he used his usual earnest
tone of voice to quibble even over Knight's
most straightforward questions.
In the end, the
jury found him persuasive.
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