Juror Questioned Over Bias Continues In Malheur Case For Now
U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown said she won't immediately dismiss a juror in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation trial, after that person was questioned about personal bias.
A juror in the trial of Ammon Bundy and six others sent a note to the judge Tuesday, questioning if another juror is biased because he used to work for the Bureau of Land Management.
Brown met with the juror and attorneys in the case to discuss the issue. The accused juror, No. 11, said his former employment would not influence his decisions. He made similar statements during jury selection.
The judge said if defense attorneys wanted to further question the man's role in the trial, they need to submit legal arguments by Wednesday morning.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys had reconvened Tuesday afternoon at the U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Portland after jurors submitted two questions to Brown. In one handwritten note, the jurors indicated they may not be able to agree on charges for all seven of the defendants.
"If we are able to agree on a verdict for 3 of the defendants; but are at a stand off for the others, does our decision for the three stand? Or does this become a mistrial for all the defendants?" the jurors wrote in the note.
"Conversely if we are able to agree on a decision for 10 out of the 13 charges does that decision stand or does it become a mistrial?" the note from the jury continued. "As an example ... If we find a defendant guilty of count one, but can't agree on count two what happens?"
In another note, juror No. 4 raised questions about juror No. 11's impartiality.
"Can a juror, a former employee of the Bureau of Land Management, who opens their remarks in deliberations by stating 'I am very biased ...' be considered an impartial judge in this case?" the second note from the jury read.
Brown sent a note back to the jury asking them for clarification.
"Jurors, before I can respond to your question about the instructions," she said, "I need to address the other question sent to me."
Jurors were allowed to continue deliberations as the issue was resolved.
"We ask that he simply be dismissed," Per Olson, David Fry's defense attorney, said in court.
"I can't do that" Brown said.
“If we do not get to the bottom of this statement that was allegedly made, we are inviting a mistrial,” said Marcus Mumford, defense attorney for Ammon Bundy.
Prosecutors argued the judge should ignore the second question.
"It's the government's position that it is not appropriate to respond to this at this stage," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight.
Brown eventually met with Knight, Mumford and Olsen in her chambers to question juror No. 11 about his statements during jury selection, specifically whether or not his previous employment with the BLM would influence his decision in the case.
During questioning Tuesday, the juror told Brown he stood by his statements during jury selection that his previous employment would not bias his decision in the case. Brown said she would allow the juror to continue in deliberations for now.
The jury began deliberating last Thursday and reconvened Monday.
The government has charged occupation leader Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan Bundy and five others with conspiring to prevent federal employees from doing their jobs at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Other defendants on trial have been charged with theft of government property and carrying a firearm in a federal facility. The occupation at the refuge near Burns, Oregon, began Jan 2. and lasted 41 days.
This article was updated at 5:45 p.m. with the judge's decision to not dismiss a juror accused of bias.
This article was originally posted at 1:20 p.m.
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