12-30-16 - The Oregonian
Just days after a federal judge denied one Oregon standoff defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea, co-defendant Jon Ritzheimer Friday filed his own motion to rescind his guilty plea.
Jon Ritzheimer, who had entered a guilty plea on Aug. 15 to the federal charge of conspiracy stemming from the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, now argues that he's innocent of the allegation.
A new court-appointed defense lawyer for Ritzheimer argues that Ritzheimer acknowledged he used force, threats or intimidation to take over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, but the object of his actions was not to impede federal employees, as was argued at the fall trial of co-defendants Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy and five others.
A jury in late October acquitted Ammon Bundy, his brother and five other co-defendants of conspiracy, weapons and other charges.
"Mr. Ritzheimer pled guilty to Count 1 of the Superseding Indictment based on the legal theory that he conspired to use force to take over the refuge--that is, force against property-- rather than force, threats or intimidation against federal employees, which is the legal theory the Government pursued at trial,'' wrote Ritzheimer's lawyer, Rosalind M. Lee, who was appointed on Nov. 17.
When he entered his guilty plea, Ritzheimer told the court, "On January 2, I learned of a plan to take the protest to the next level, and I agreed to go to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge with an advance party. And I went there and I forcibly occupied the refuge. I did park my truck up at the top of the refuge, and I camped out there for a few days...And I can see how my conduct and my actions there would be intimidating. But I did forcibly go and occupy the refuge, and so I plead guilty to it. ''
Ritzheimer's lawyer also contends there was new evidence on informants that aroseo during the initial trial, after his plea was issued, including the identity of several FBI confidential sources who were at the refuge: Mark McConnell, Terri Linnell and Fabio Minoggio.
McConnell told federal agents that, "Ritzheimer is not participating much in any leadership decisions,'' according to redacted reports prosecutors provided to defense lawyers, according to Ritzheimer's motion.
Linnell, interviewed by Ritzheimer's lawyer after the trial, said she would testify in his defense that she only knew him to be involved in peaceful protest, Ritzheimer's motion said. Linnell testified for the defense in the Bundy trial as well.
"At the time, Mr. Ritzheimer pled guilty, he did not know that the FBI had paid informants inside the Refuge who were actively engaged in leadership roles, running the security squads, teaching military tactics and firearm proficiency, acting as a body guard/armed driver for Ammon Bundy, and spreading false news about an impending FBI massacre--raising fears to a level that foreseeably could have led protestors to violence,'' Lee wrote.
Ritzheimer's lawyer further argued that the acquittal of Ammon Bundy and others during the initial trial is another reason to allow him to withdraw his plea.
Many of these same arguments, however, didn't fly when U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown on Wednesday denied his co-defendant Ryan Payne's similar motion. When he entered the plea, Payne knew he was giving up his right to a jury trial, the judge noted.
If allowed to withdraw his plea, Ritzheimer could join the second group of defendants scheduled for trial on Feb. 14, his lawyer wrote. She argued it would not prejudice the government. Ritzheimer is out of custody and easily travels between his home in Arizona and Portland.
Prosecutors have until Jan. 13 to respond to Ritzheimer's motion.
Seven other defendants are set to go to trial on Feb. 14. They face additional misdemeanor charges, including trespass and destruction of property, as well as the felony conspiracy and weapons charges.
-- Maxine Bernstein