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Monday, March 13, 2017

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge 'Takeover' / Second Trial Convictions / My Thoughts


I’ve always had this tendency to bristle whenever someone, who has never been in law enforcement or worked in the judicial system, lays that old saw on me:  Justice isn’t always just.  But, of course, they’re right.  It’s sort of a bitter pill to swallow when you’ve dedicated a portion of your life to that profession.

Nonetheless, this brings me to the article by Maxine Bernstein in The Oregonian (March 12, 2017) –“Prosecutors Reflect on Refuge Takeover Trials.”  This article pertains to the second trial in the unlawful takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon by ‘armed occupiers.’

The ‘occupation,’ the ‘armed standoff,’ began in January of 2016; and ended with one of the ‘occupiers’ being shot and killed by Oregon State Police.  There was, as noted, an earlier trial of the principals, the leadership, in that stand-off.  All the defendants in the first trial (Ammon Bundy et al) were acquitted.

Ms. Bernstein asked U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams – why the U.S. Attorney’s office pursued a second trial of lesser involved defendants when the first trial of the leadership ended in acquittals.

Williams said that the “decision to continue to pursue felony conspiracy charges against the lesser-known defendants, after last fall’s acquittal of occupation leader Ammon Bundy and six other key figures, was made between his office and Justice officials.”

And you might ask:  What’s the motivations behind that decision?  Well, there are a couple of possible explanations.

  1. An ‘occupier,’ Robert ‘LaVoy’ Finicum was killed during the ‘stop’ by Oregon State Police and the FBI.  Finicum’s wife is suing the Federal government charging ‘excessive force and wrongful death,’ among other things.  She is asking for $5 million in damages for herself and for each of her 12 children.  Federal lawyers do not want to go into court and attempt to fight those charges when no one was actually convicted of a crime - principally the big seven leaders of the ‘occupation.’  It was imperative, therefore, that the government win at least some convictions and be able to trot-out some actual evidence of criminal behavior, even if those persons convicted played more minor roles.
  2. Furthermore, the U.S. Attorney’s office admitted that the acquittals in the first trial (the big seven) was an “excruciating” defeat.  And, there could be an element of ‘saving face’ involved for the U.S. Attorney, the Department of Justice in D.C., and the FBI.
  3. The U.S. Attorney might also allude to a responsibility for pursuing prosecutions that are owed to the citizens of Burns and Harney County who were inconvenienced in many ways.  But, I don’t think that aspect was given much weight.

When Williams was additionally asked how he accepted the two significantly different trial verdicts, he responded that, “It takes two different juries evaluating the evidence and testimony and making different conclusions.  Sometimes, that’s how this system works.’’  No mention was made that the original defendants were ‘overly charged with complex crimes,’ which seemed to turn the trial into a nuanced exercise that the jury did not find understandable or compelling.

But, to many of us, the conclusion is that:  Justice is not always just.

The following from Ms. Bernstein’s article:

Felony charges recently adjudicated in the second trial:
  • Conspiracy to impede employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the BLM from doing their work at the refuge through intimidation, threat or force.
  • Possessing a firearm in a federal facility.
  • Depredation of government property.  (This was interesting.  I thought I was fairly familiar with federal violations investigated by the FBI, but I’d never heard of anything like “Depredation.”  I had to look up the word in the dictionary and found...  “An attack involving plunder and pillage.”  Wow, how would you like that on your rap sheet?)


Trial Decision Results:
  • Jason S. Patrick, age 43:  Conspiracy – Guilty; Firearms – Not Guilty.
  • Darryl W. Thorn, age 32:  Conspiracy – Guilty; Firearms – Guilty.
  • Duane L. Ehmer, age 46:  Conspiracy – Not Guilty; Depredation - Guilty
  • Jake E. Ryan, age 28:  Conspiracy – Not Guilty; Depredation - Guilty


And so it goes…

True Nelson

PS:  For those who would like to read more blog posts on this subject concerning the early 'takeover' and shooting...

January 10, 2016

January 14, 2016

January 25, 2016

January 27, 2016

February 2, 2016