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For Finicum Supporters, FBI Indictment Only A Partial Win

Supporters of Robert "LaVoy" Finicum said Wednesday they'll continue to press for more information about the shooting death of the Arizona rancher following the indictment of an FBI agent.

Finicum was one of the occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Former FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita has been indicted on five counts for allegedly lying to investigators about firing his weapon at Finicum during a traffic stop of occupation leaders.

Astarita's shots missed Finicum, but moments later he was shot and killed by Oregon State Police troopers. Investigators said the killing was justified, but also said Astarita did not disclose that he fired two shots.

Finicum’s widow, Jeanette Finicum, said she was encouraged by the charges that were announced Wednesday.

"But I’m also cautious and hopeful that they will continue to look for additional tampered-with evidence," she said.

"I understand that if there’s lies in one area, there could be lies in another. I feel that there could be a cover-up of some sort."

Finicum's death spurred protests and conspiracy theories among occupation supporters. Some, like Brand Thornton, believe that Finicum was purposefully targeted by the government.

"I think they just marked him for death," said Thornton, a refuge occupier who was never indicted. "I believe the court will rule in favor of law enforcement, regardless. The case will eventually just go bye-bye."

The incident has also fostered more distrust of the federal government among the self-described patriot community. Some see the local and state investigators who caught FBI agents in the alleged lies as heroes, and say the incident only underscores the importance of local, over federal, law enforcement.

Thornton praised Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson, who led the local investigation.

"To his eternal credit," Thornton said, "he saw some malfeasance from the FBI and he wasn't going to sweep it under the rug."

Speaking at a press conference Wednesday, Nelson said he was disappointed Astarita and other FBI agents weren't put on administrative leave during the investigation. But he said he was proud of his own Deschutes County investigators for discovering the issue.

Finicum’s family plans to pursue a wrongful death suit over the incident, Jeanette Finicum said.

"I would hope that all of this would spur further investigation, and maybe an independent investigation," she said. "I'm hopeful that more truth will come out. It does raise doubt that there is more to be found."

Pacific Patriots Network co-founder Joseph Rice said the 15-month investigation dragged on far too long.

"How is that possible when you have sworn federal law enforcement officers — we're well over a year down the road — that are just now being indicted?" he said.

There were a total of five FBI agents involved in the incident, but only Astarita, the one who fired shots, has been indicted so far.

At a press conference Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Billy Williams would not say whether the other agents are still being investigated.

"Other FBI agents knew a shot was taken," said Rice. "They made false statements. I would hope that more indictments would be forthcoming."

Copyright 2017 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Amanda Peacher has reported for Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Mountain West News Bureua, a collaboration of public media organizations in the Mountain West.