Judge Criticizes Defense In Occupation Trial; Cox Testifies
U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown expressed her frustration with the defense’s tactics as the trial for seven occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge continued Thursday.
Following witness testimony including that of defendant Shawna Cox, the defense unrolled its afternoon schedule outside the jury’s presence. Morgan Philpot, one of Ammon Bundy’s attorneys, implied the defense wanted to call a particular woman to the witness stand because she was a woman “and we have nine female jurors,” Philpot said.
Brown cut him off, saying it was “highly inappropriate” to call a witness because of their gender or race.
“That’s just flat out wrong,” Brown said.
She further criticized the defense for what she sees as disorganization, after attorneys complained of not having enough time to assemble their case. Brown argued the defense has had more than ample time.
“The defense collectively has been putting this together day-by-day,” Brown said.
Brown scolded the defense for discussing topics beyond what they outlined in proffering witnesses, despite numerous sustained objections.
Defendant Shawna Cox took the stand Thursday. During her testimony, jurors saw video shot from Cox’s cellphone during the Jan. 26 traffic stop in which LaVoy Finicum was killed. Cox was in the backseat of Finicum’s truck along with Ryan Bundy and Victoria Sharp.
Cox sought during her testimony to depict the incident as an explanation for why she was the last one to leave Finicum’s truck. The video shows police firing on the truck and later firing rounds of a substance similar to pepper spray into the truck.
Prior to the arrests, Ryan Bundy can be heard in the video asking, “Where’s the guns?” The video also shows Bundy holding a handgun in the back seat of Finicum’s truck, something Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel asked Cox about during cross-examination.
“I never saw any guns” in Finicum’s truck, Cox testified.
Cox also said she didn’t see the flashing red and blue police lights during the initial stop because she was hunkered down in her seat holding her phone over her head, unable to see the screen. Cox testified she did see glimmer of lights bouncing off the snow.
Cox said those in the truck felt unsafe getting out after law enforcement fired shots. She described feeling defenseless.
Following the video, Cox was left speechless for a few moments. Recounting those tense minutes was one of the first times she showed much emotion throughout the trial.
Richard Mack, a former sheriff in Graham County, Arizona, detailed his conversations with Harney County Sheriff David Ward and occupation leader Ammon Bundy on the stand Thursday.
Mack testified he spoke with Ward multiple times in the lead-up to the occupation at Bundy’s request. He was also in Burns, Oregon, for the splintered Jan. 2 protest where a group broke away to take over the refuge.
Bundy called Mack following the takeover, Mack said, urging him to come to the refuge. Mack testified he told Bundy he couldn’t because of car issues.
“We had a very emotional conversation,” Mack said. “I told him to get out of there.”
On the stand, Mack described the occupation as “ a misguided protest.” He worried “someone was going to get hurt.”
Prior to the occupation, Mack told Ward to essentially act as the first line of defense for Harney County ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond against the federal government, according to testimony. Russell Hammond — Dwight's son and Steven's brother — later took the stand and testified the family has been threatened for associating with Ammon Bundy.
“The sheriff was not willing to get involved,” Mack testified.
Mack said Ward eventually stopped returning his calls.
Mack has a history of fighting what he and others see as federal overreach. In 1996, he was part of U.S. Supreme Court case Printz v. United States, which determined the federal government cannot compel local chief law enforcement officers to perform background checks required by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, otherwise known as the Brady Bill.
Mack is listed as the founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a law enforcement organization aiming to “eliminate any training or behavior that tarnishes the badge,” according to its website.
Firearms expert and former FBI agent Charles Stephenson also testified Thursday morning.
On the stand, Stephenson explained the weapons carried by occupiers do not in themselves quantify a threat.
But on cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Barrow asked Stephenson if the setting in which the weapons are carried — in this case, a federal facility — can change the assessment of a threat. Stephenson said it does.
Ammon and Ryan Bundy, David Fry and Jeff Banta all face weapons charges.
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