Jury splits conspiracy convictions in 2nd trial of Oregon wildlife refuge armed standoff

Jury splits conspiracy convictions in 2nd trial of Oregon wildlife refuge armed standoff
Two men who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon last year were found guilty of conspiracy by a federal jury. However, the same jurors cleared two other occupiers of the same charge stemming from the armed standoff with federal agents.

On Friday, Jason Patrick, 43, and Darryl Thorn, 32, were found guilty of conspiring to keep federal employees from their work, using intimidation, threat or force, according to The Oregonian newspaper. In the same verdict, which took more than three days to reach, jurors also acquitted Duane Ehmer, 46, and Jake Ryan, 28.

For 41 days at the beginning of 2016, those defendants, along with dozens of others, took part in the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a federal facility maintained by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The group was semi-formally known as the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, and was led by brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy as well as others challenging the federal government’s power to hold land they considered to be the property of individuals.

Friday marked the end of the second trial resulting from the standoff. It lasted 10 days in the Oregon US District Court in Portland. In the first trial, last October, the Bundy brothers and five other defendants were all acquitted of conspiracy and other charges. The first trial’s result shocked many, and this latest trial may have compounded the reaction, as many organizers avoided conviction, unlike some of the ones who just joined in to support the action.

While Ehmer and Ryan were also acquitted of conspiracy, they did receive guilty verdicts on lesser felony charges of depredation of government property. They had used an excavator belonging to the facility to dig two trenches on January 27, 2016, The Oregonian reported.

Thorn, who helped with security during the occupation, was additionally found guilty of possessing a firearm in a federal facility. Patrick and Ryan were acquitted of that charge.

Sentencing is scheduled for May, but until then, Ehmer told The Oregonian: “I'm headed home to go ride my pony for a couple months and then I'm going to take my mom fishing. That's about it.”

The four men face misdemeanor trespassing charges as well, and US District Judge Anna J. Brown is expected to write her verdict on those soon.

The Oregonian reports that 11 others pleaded guilty to conspiracy, but some have requested their plea be withdrawn. A total of 26 occupiers were indicted on the charge, with radio show host Pete Santilli being the only defendant who had his charges dropped.

The protest occupation of the refuge began January 2, 2016, largely prompted by a separate federal land use case against Nevada father-son ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond. They had been resentenced to a mandatory minimum of five years in federal prison after a judge realized an error had been made in their previous sentence, which they served. Their crime was setting fire to public land, an act they claim preserved the environment and protected their own property.

The Hammonds voluntarily turned themselves into authorities on January 4, encouraging the occupiers to leave in peace, but the Bundy-led group stayed.