Malheur Occupation Trial Goes To Jury
Closing arguments are finished in the trial of seven people charged in the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year. The case now heads to the 12-person jury for deliberation.
Attorney Matt Schindler, hybrid counsel for defendant Ken Medenbach, delivered a thunderous argument to the jury in defense not just of his client, but of the occupation as a whole.
“How did any of these people benefit from protesting the death of rural America?” Schindler said.
Defendants are charged with conspiracy to impede federal employees from doing their jobs by force, threat or intimidation.
Schindler cast the seven defendants as mere protesters who should not have been feared.
“I just sat through five weeks of a trial about threatening federal employees without hearing a single threat,” he said.
The prosecution returned fire in its rebuttal, saying it did not matter whether occupiers actually impeded employees, but rather that they intended to do so.
“Everyone had a different role in this conspiracy,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel.
This came following closing arguments from Ryan Bundy, Schindler, and attorneys representing Shawna Cox, David Fry, Jeff Banta and Neil Wampler.
Bundy, who is representing himself, was passionate and occasionally emotional. He defended all occupiers’ actions at the refuge, his own in Robert “LaVoy” Finicum’s truck during the Jan. 26 traffic stop, and even invoked Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I ask you to enter a verdict of not guilty on all counts,” Bundy told the jury, “not just for me, but for all of us.”
Bundy argued it is in the government’s interest to put down the occupation because they see it as a threat to power. On Tuesday, Marcus Mumford presented a list of government witnesses, noting the vast majority of them worked for the government in some capacity.
The defense points to this as a flaw in the prosecution’s case.
“They’re all paid to administer power,” Bundy said, later adding, “The people have to insist that the government is not our master; they are our servants.”
Bundy said the occupation had “nothing to do with impeding and preventing the employees of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.”
“We did not know their names … we did not know whose seats we were sitting in,” Bundy said. “And we didn’t care.”
Acknowledging the callousness of his statement, Bundy said their cause was something bigger than taking over a federally-owned bird sanctuary.
Bundy maintained the defendants were nonviolent, despite the presence of firearms throughout the occupation. Bundy, who did not take the witness stand at trial, said though he had a weapon in Finicum’s truck, he only took it out of its holster to put it on the floor in the backseat. In a video of the traffic stop filmed by fellow occupier Shawna Cox, Bundy can be seen holding the weapon.
“Despite being shot at numerous times, despite being shot myself, I still did not return fire,” Bundy said of the traffic stop. Bundy was arrested during that stop and sustained an injury to his arm, although it has not been officially determined if a bullet or a piece of shrapnel hit him.
Attorney Tiffany Harris gave closing arguments on behalf of defendant Cox, who was in the backseat with Bundy. Cox testified Oct. 13 she “never saw any guns” in Finicum’s truck. Investigators found two loaded semi-automatic rifles and one loaded revolver in Finicum’s truck after the traffic stop. The court earlier dismissed weapons charges against Cox.
Also receiving scrutiny was Cox telling Finicum to “gun it” after they were first stopped by police. In an interview with OPB Wednesday, Cox defended her actions, saying the in-the-moment decision to drive away was out of concern for their safety.
“We had already been shot at … so if we’ve made that decision , that’s what we’re doing, then we’re going for it, then you better go,” Cox told OPB, “fast and right now — because we are in big trouble.”
Harris tried to depict Cox’s role in the occupation as merely a volunteer, rather than a leader. Harris argued Cox was an administrative assistant.
“We come to the aid of our neighbors. We come to the aid of our families and those in our communities,” Cox told OPB. “I love the people in Harney County. I love the people in that room. And I stand for the truth.”
As an interesting footnote, Harris explained her definition of the refuge as a public place. She said all of it — even the desks and employee offices — belong to the public.
Per Olsen’s closing argument on behalf of David Fry painted the defendant as a person unaware of what he joined when he came to the refuge, and therefore not guilty of conspiracy.
Olsen opined on brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy’s reasoning behind the occupation. Fry’s attorney argued the standoff’s end — his client contemplating ending his own life amid a mental health crisis — was a far cry from what the Bundys probably imagined.
“I bet they didn’t think it would end this way,” Olsen said.
Olsen parroted claims made by the defense throughout the trial that his client’s reason for going to the refuge had nothing to do with the federal employees who worked there.
In his testimony, Fry claimed not to have known the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is a federally-owned facility when he drove to Oregon from his home in Ohio. Olsen said in closing if his client wanted to prevent refuge employees from doing their jobs, “don’t you think he’d want to know where they worked?”
Olsen argued if conspiracy requires agreement, conspirators must know what they are agreeing to; Olsen said Fry did not know what he was agreeing to and is therefore not guilty.
“Folks, I am asking you to send Mr. Fry back to Ohio,” Olsen said.
Remaining defense attorneys tried to poke holes in the prosecution’s case, whether it pertained to their client’s particular case or the occupation as a whole.
Matt Schindler accused law enforcement of helping to fuel the occupation by limiting engagement with those at the refuge. Schindler called the roadside meeting between Bundy and Harney County Sheriff David Ward a photo op.
Ward treated Bundy “like he was some kind of police dignitary,” rather than someone wanted for illegal activity, Schindler said.
AUSA Craig Gabriel said it was impractical for the defense to suggest the FBI needed to ask occupiers to leave in order for them to do so.
“Just play that out in your mind if the FBI had rolled up and said, ‘Hey, guys, time to go,’” Gabriel said, pointing to the 34 weapons and 16,000 rounds of ammunition recovered from the refuge.
Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting