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Bundy clan acquitted in Oregon refuge takeover case

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The armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife refuge in Oregon took place earlier this year. The occupation began on January 2 and ended February 11. It was led by Ammon Bundy who had previously participated in the 2014 Bundy standoff that took place on his father’s ranch in Nevada.

The trial for Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan Bundy, and five others took six weeks with the final verdict coming in only six hours of deliberation on Thursday, Oct. 27.

Many were stunned after it was announced that all seven defendants were being acquitted of federal conspiracy and weapons charges.

The Bundy’s fight with government was stemmed in an ongoing fight between the government and the family over unpaid fees for cattle grazing on federal public land and throughout the occupation they demanded that the federal government surrender the 188,000 acre property to local control. Their movement has also attracted support from conspiracy theorists and other far-right groups.

During the trial the defendants never denied that they had occupied the refuge but they argued that the prosecutors could not prove that the group had engaged in an illegal conspiracy that kept federal workers from doing their jobs.

Ammon Bundy also argued that the takeover had been spontaneous.

The wide national coverage of the occupation had many thinking that it was sure to be an open-and-shut case but many blame the prosecutors for the verdict that surprised even the defendants and their lawyers. According to The New York Times, Mattew A. Schindler who represented the defendant Kenneth Medenbach said, “I’ve done more federal trials than I can count and I’ve never won like this.” He also said that “the notion of being acquitted never entered [Medenbach’s] mind. I told Ken over and over and over, ‘You’re going to be convicted’” according to The Los Angeles Times.

Some argue that the government stretched its own case too far and that the prosecutors were overconfident and chose not to file lesser charges that may have been easier to convict. Additionally, if the defendants could persuade the jury that criminal conspiracy had not occurred the defendant could also not be convicted of the accompanying weapons charges because it requires that the government prove that these weapons had been brought on federal property to commit a crime.

Juror 4 emailed The Oregonian and stated that “All 12 jurors felt that this verdict was a statement regarding the various failures of the prosecution to prove ‘conspiracy’ in the count itself –  and not any form of affirmation of the defense’s various beliefs, actions or aspirations.” He also said that prosecutors were overconfident and gave off an “air of triumphalism.”

The implications of the loss are still to be seen but many are worried that the results might inspire other anti-government militants to spring to action. Nonetheless, Ammon and Ryan Bundy are not going to be released. They both face similar charges in Nevada for the standoff that took place in 2014. Yet, it is also not clear how these verdicts might affect the government’s strategy in this case.

Sources: New York Times, Los Angeles Times, NPR

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