A jury has found all seven defendants not guilty of conspiracy and firearms charges linked to an armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon earlier this year.
The defendants included brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, the alleged leaders of the occupation that lasted nearly six weeks. They and five others were exonerated on the charges of conspiring to impede federal workers from their jobs at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
As NPR’s Kirk Siegler reports:
“The jury’s acquittal of all of the standoff defendants … is being met with surprise from both sides. The federal government had focused its case narrowly, arguing that the militants had conspired to impede federal workers from doing their jobs at the wildlife refuge. The tense 41-day standoff last winter came to a dramatic end a few days after one of the militants, LaVoy Finicum, was shot and killed by state police at an FBI roadblock. The Bundys aren’t free, however. They still face similar federal charges in Nevada for a 2014 armed standoff at their father’s ranch.”
The Associated Press reports that there was never a question that the group had seized the refuge with arms:
“Federal prosecutors took two weeks to present their case, finishing with a display of more than 30 guns seized after the standoff. An FBI agent testified that 16,636 live rounds and nearly 1,700 spent casings were found.
“[Ammon] Bundy testified in his defense, spending three days amplifying his belief that government overreach is destroying Western communities that rely on the land.”
Kirk also reports on possible effects of the acquittal:
“As one supporter [of the defendants], Nevada State Rep. Michelle Fiore told me, the verdict shows that Americans need to stand up to “unlawful behavior by federal employees.” [Groups that study far-right militants] say this verdict will embolden [them to commit] other extreme anti-government acts, especially if Hillary Clinton is elected.”