Judge keeps Feb. 14 trial date for second group of Oregon standoff defendants
12-14-16 : The Oregonian
The second trial of Oregon standoff defendants will begin as scheduled on Feb. 14, and the judge plans to summon 1,000 prospective jurors from across the state.
U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown on Wednesday dismissed a motion by prosecutors to delay the trial for two months, saying they failed to give her a good reason.
“We’re going forward with trial, with jury selection to begin Feb. 14,” Brown said, “unless good cause arises.”
All seven defendants were in court with their attorneys, filling the same chairs in Courtroom 9A that Ammon Bundy and six other co-defendants sat in before a jury acquitted them in October of conspiracy, weapon and theft of government property charges.
The case stems from the 41-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon.
Federal prosecutors decided to keep the federal conspiracy and weapons charges against the remaining defendants, but also plan to file new misdemeanor charges by either Friday or Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel said.
They’ll also go before a grand jury next week, seeking a new felony charge of depredation of government property against defendant Duane Ehmer, alleging he participated in the building of a trench on refuge property.
Those scheduled for trial are: Jason Patrick of Bonaire, Georgia; Ehmer of Irrigon; Dylan Anderson of Provo, Utah; Sean Anderson and his wife, Sandra Lynn Anderson, of Riggins, Idaho; Darryl W. Thorn of Marysville, Washington; and Jake Ryan of Plains, Montana. They are all out of custody.
Their supporters gathered across the street from the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse, grilling hotdogs and drinking hot chocolate as snow fell in downtown Portland.
The seven were among 26 people indicted on a conspiracy charge. Eleven others pleaded guilty to the charge, though three of those defendants have asked to withdraw their pleas. The government dropped charges against another, Pete Santilli.
Patrick, who has chosen to defend himself at the next trial, had urged the court to dismiss the conspiracy indictment against him.
Standing before her Wednesday, he argued, “This conspiracy contains all exactly the same evidence, all the same witnesses,” presented at the first trial of refuge occupiers that ended in not guilty verdicts.
But the judge denied his motion, saying she’d issue a written order to follow.
The judge will make the final decision on the content of a written questionnaire that will be sent to summoned jurors. Defense attorneys retained a jury consultant and proposed a scaled-down, revised questionnaire compared to the one used to seat a jury in the first trial.
Federal prosecutors object to the revisions, but the judge said she wants them to explain why in more detail by the end of this week. She’ll make the final determination and issue the questionnaire.
Defense lawyer Andrew Kohlmetz, standby counsel for Patrick, said the revisionswill help determine if the prospective jurors had exposure to the initial trial and the verdicts and better gauge their attitudes toward the criminal justice system and public protests.
He said the proposed revision also contains fewer questions, noting that the first trial’s questionnaires often came back incomplete because of their length. Defense lawyers have suggested striking questions about jurors’ attitudes regarding jury nullification or potential punishments.
The proposed revision is also better tailored to this second group of defendants, Kolhmetz said. Despite similar facts and evidence, “these two trials are likely to be very different,” Kohlmetz argued in a filing Wednesday.
Federal prosecutors believe the questionnaire used for the first trial is sufficient, and covers more ground that would reduce the need to ask so many questions of potential jurors once they appear in court.
Defense lawyer Jesse Merrithew, who represents Ryan, suggested in court papers filed Wednesday that the government “intentionally manufactured a delay by refusing to be forthright with the Court” and not divulging for many weeks how it planned to proceed. This held up juror summonses and the approval of expense requests from defense lawyers.
Gabriel called Merrithew’s suggestion “outrageous.”
“It’s specious. It’s groundless, and it’s unprofessional,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the judge sent an email to the parties in the case, sharing a letter she received from Neil Wampler, who was acquitted on the conspiracy charge. He urged the judge to drop the charges against the remaining defendants if Oregon’s U.S. Attorney Billy Williams won’t.
“I realize that the prospect of dropping the charges is a bitter bullet for Mr. Williams, but he should man up and bite it,” Wampler wrote. “The alternative — continuing the prosecution — will only result in another humiliating debacle. You are the adult in the room, your honor.”
She forwarded it with no comment.
— Maxine Bernstein