Malheur judge questions juror over impartiality concerns

Attorneys will have the chance to bring up the issue again Wednesday morning

Opening statements in the trial of 7 defendants in the  Malheur Refuge occupation began September 13, 2016 (For KOIN: Sketch Artist Deborah Marble)
Opening statements in the trial of 7 defendants in the Malheur Refuge occupation began September 13, 2016 (For KOIN: Sketch Artist Deborah Marble)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Judge Anna J. Brown asked the jury in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge case to stop deliberating while she and attorneys for the prosecution and defense questioned a juror about his impartiality.

Judge Brown decided to reconvene both sides of the case Tuesday after jurors submitted 2 hand-written notes.

One of the notes revealed Juror 11 had said he was biased after questions were raised by Juror 4.

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)

Juror 11 reportedly worked as a Bureau of Land Management ranch technician and firefighter decades ago.

During voir dire, he was asked if his connection with the BLM would affect his ability to be impartial.

Not really, he replied, “that was more than 20 years ago.”

Judge Brown met with the juror Tuesday afternoon and said she found no basis that he was untruthful.

She then closed the inquiry of bias for the day.

Attorneys will have the chance to bring up the issue again Wednesday morning if they can find specific case laws that justify reopening the inquiry.

If that happens, each juror may be questioned individually about whether Juror 11’s possible lack of impartiality affected their deliberations.

If Juror 11 is dismissed, he would be replaced by one of 7 alternate jurors.

The other note Judge Brown received asked whether jurors need to reach an agreement on all 7 defendants, or if it can just be for 3 of them.

Judge Brown said she had a hunch questions about Juror 11’s impartiality affected the jury’s ability to reach a unanimous decision.

The jury has been tasked with deciding whether or not to find 7 occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge guilty of conspiring to impede federal workers through threats, intimidation or force.

The case went to the jury late last week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.