What’s next for the Malheur standoff case?

KOIN 6 News is answering some lingering questions following yesterday's verdict

Attorney Marcus Mumford with his client Ammon Bundy during opening statements in the Malheur Refuge takeover trial, September 13, 2016 (For KOIN: Sketch Artist Deborah Marble)
Attorney Marcus Mumford with his client Ammon Bundy during opening statements in the Malheur Refuge takeover trial, September 13, 2016 (For KOIN: Sketch Artist Deborah Marble)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Now that Ammon Bundy and six of his co-defendants have been acquitted of criminal conspiracy charges stemming from the occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, KOIN 6 News sat down with criminal defense attorney Kevin Sali to ask what’s next for the case.

Mr. Sali is not directly affilitated with this case.

Defense Attorney Kevin Sali.
Defense Attorney Kevin Sali.

What does this not guilty verdict mean for the seven other defendants currently set for trial in February?

“This was a stunning verdict,” Sali said. “It was a major, major event and I think, without question, a huge setback for the government.”

Sali said once the dust settles from Thursday’s verdict, both the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the defense teams representing the remaining defendants will be taking a very hard look at where things stand. Going forward he said, federal prosecutors will have to address any strategic changes. They may approach plea negotiations differently or they could move to modify or dismiss the indictment against the seven remaining defendants.

Sali cautioned: “What happened [Thursday] doesn’t dictate what will happen in February.”

He said there are advantages and disadvantages for having split trails, like what is occurring stemming from the refuge occupation. For defense attorneys, they get to see the government’s case and the attorneys get an understanding of how a jury may react to some of the evidence. But, he said a disadvantage to spilt trials: the government now knows its weaknesses.

What does the acquittal mean for the group who has already pleaded guilty?

“They’re still bound by their pleas,” according to Sali. He said it’s very rare, and difficult, for people to withdraw their pleas.

Just because some defendants have been acquitted doesn’t mean those who have taken plea deals can suddenly ask for trials and hope to be acquitted, Sali said.

Can the Harney County DA’s Office file any charges against any of the defendants?

“If they [Harney County prosecutors] can say that what the defendants allegedly did was a violation of state law, the fact that there has been a prior federal prosecution would not bar a state prosecution on double jeopardy grounds,” according to Sali.

Is there any civil recourse for the US Fish & Wildlife Service to recoup the money spent on repairs to the refuge?

“The fact that they’ve lost the criminal case doesn’t necessarily bar them from pursing a civil case,” Sali said.

He gave the O.J. Simpson case as an example. Simpson was acquitted of murder, but the victims’ families filed a civil lawsuit. Because the standard of proof is lower in civil court, Simpson was convicted and ordered to payout damages.

KOIN 6 News has reached out to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife to see if they will be filing a civil lawsuit, but we haven’t heard back.

Can the federal government go back and charge Ammon Bundy and others with different criminal charges such as criminal trespassing stemming from what happened at the refuge?

“My guess is legally, there probably is something that they could do if they wanted to go back and charge, but I think it’s very, very unlikely,” Sali said.

What does the acquittal mean for the Nevada trial Ammon Bundy and his brother Ryan Bundy are still facing?

According to Sali, nothing. Because the circumstances are different, the acquittal will likely have no impact on what happens in Nevada. He said federal prosecutors in Nevada were likely watching the Oregon case very closely.

Now that 7 defendants on the same indictment have been found not guilty, does that preclude the other 7 from going to trial since a jury found their alleged co-conspirators not guilty?

According to Sali, possibly.

“The defense attorneys for the next group will certainly be looking into an argument on that basis.”