Malheur Refuge trial now in the hands of the jury

Prosecutor said occupiers made a choice "to take over someone else's workplace"

Federal Judge Anna J. Brown on the opening day of the trial for the 7 defendants in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation trial, September 13, 2016 (KOIN)
Federal Judge Anna J. Brown on the opening day of the trial for the 7 defendants in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation trial, September 13, 2016 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN/AP) — Late Wednesday afternoon, the case of 7 people on trial for the takeover and occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge went to the jury.

The jury will begin deliberations Thursday morning.

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Ryan Bundy told jurors to “stand for freedom” and find him not guilty as he gave his closing argument Wednesday in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation trial.

Ryan, 43, and his brother Ammon Bundy are among 7 defendants being tried on a charge of conspiring to impede federal employees from doing their work at the refuge through threats, intimidation or force.

The reason Ryan joined the protest, he explained, was to support ranchers Dwight and Steve Hammond who he believes were wrongly imprisoned. He said federal government overreach not only put the Hammonds behind bars, but continues to imperil the economies of places like Harney County.

Ammon Bundy in federal court, October 18, 2016. (Sketch artist: Deborah Marble)
Ammon Bundy in federal court, October 18, 2016. (Sketch artist: Deborah Marble)

He said Malheur has gone from “the jewel of Harney County” to “the biggest weed patch in the country” because the federal government controls the land and restricts logging and ranching.

“At some point the people have to insist that the government is not our master,” he said. “They are our servants, and we have given them a duty.”

Ryan did not deny taking over workspaces at the refuge that belonged to U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees, but repeated what other defendants have said throughout the trial by claiming there was no conspiracy to prevent them from going to work.

In her closing argument, Shawna Cox’s lawyer Tiffany Harris said she wanted to remind jurors “the refuge is a public place and these are public employees.”

Harris said the government wants to sell a story about “a bunch of outsiders coming in and creating a problem.” But she argued “the problem was already there.”

David Fry’s attorney told the jury Wednesday his client is “not a man of threats”. He said Fry could not have had a “conscious purpose” of impeding workers because he didn’t even know USFWS employees worked at the refuge.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight gave his closing argument Tuesday and urged jurors to use common sense when deciding whether to find the occupiers guilty.

Knight said the occupiers made a choice “to take over someone else’s workplace,” and that the case is about the law, not claims of federal government overreach.

Attorney Marcus Mumford (left) and Ammon Bundy (right) in federal court, October 18, 2016. (Sketch artist: Deborah Marble)
Attorney Marcus Mumford (left) and Ammon Bundy (right) in federal court, October 18, 2016. (Sketch artist: Deborah Marble)

But in his closing remarks, Ammon Bundy’s attorney Marcus Mumford said his client didn’t have a problem with refuge employees.

“It was with their employer, the federal government,” Mumford said. “It wont respect its limits.”

Mumford reiterated many points that Ammon made when he testified for 3 days earlier this month, including that the presence of firearms ensured the protest wouldn’t be immediately stormed by armed federal agents.

The lawyer said the plan was to take ownership of the refuge by adverse possession, occupying it for years and then turning it over to local officials.

Several defendants testified they only had brief interactions with Ammon and other leaders during the occupation. Some said they were inspired to join the group at the refuge after learning about the Hammonds’ case. Others said they wanted to take a stand against what they described as decades of federal government overreach.

KOIN 6 News will be in court Wednesday with the latest updates