— Maxine Bernstein (@maxoregonian) February 6, 2017
February 06, 2017 at 5:03 PM
Three of seven remaining Oregon standoff defendants each pleaded guilty Monday to a single misdemeanor trespass charge and were sentenced to a year of probation and ordered to pay $1,000 restitution to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Idaho couple Sean Anderson and Sandra Anderson and Dylan Anderson of Provo, Utah, each admitted they entered, occupied and used the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge without authorization.
Sean and Sandra Anderson were among the last four holdouts at the federal sanctuary last winter. Dylan Anderson isn't related to them. He spent about three weeks at the refuge.
As two special conditions of their probation, U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown ordered each not to travel to the refuge in Harney County and not to occupy or camp on any federal property without permission.
"I would say that the Malheur refuge is not on my bucket list,'' Sean Anderson told the judge when she asked if he understood the conditions.
They forfeited rights to guns or ammunition seized by the FBI at the refuge and waived their right to an appeal. All other felony and misdemeanor charges against them were dismissed.
The court, however, will allow Sean Anderson to retrieve a 1911 .45-caliber pistol, considered a family heirloom, after he completes probation. The gun will remain in the custody of the Idaho County sheriff until then. Anderson also can continue bow hunting during his probation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel said Sean Anderson and his wife traveled together to the refuge three times for short stays between Jan. 5 and Jan. 18 before they returned a fourth time on Jan. 25. They ended up staying until Feb. 11 in the aftermath of the Jan. 26 arrest of occupation leader Ammon Bundy and the fatal police shooting of occupation spokesman Robert "LaVoy'' Finicum.
The plea deal focused on the couple's last two tense weeks, when they holed up in the west encampment of the refuge, repeatedly refused to leave and made inflammatory statements on live video in the hours before their surrender -- "the day the whole world watched'' as Sandra Anderson later described it.
But the prosecutor said he agreed with the defense lawyer that Sean Anderson shouldn't be judged solely on his "alarming" video rants when he was under stress. The four holdouts said they feared the FBI would attack and kill them.
Moments before the hearing, Sean Anderson, 48, described the plea offer "as a blessing.'' He wore a white T-shirt to court that read, "He who kneels before God can stand before anyone.''
Sandra Anderson, a 49-year-old teacher's aide who works with young children, had never been involved in a protest before and has no prior criminal history, her court-appointed lawyer Tyl Bakker said. He said the two had no connection to Ammon Bundy and came to protest the return to federal prison of Harney County ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond for setting fire to public lands.
Sean Anderson is a union electrician and "jack of all trades'' who has been doing ranch work, farm work and harvesting firewood to come up with the restitution money. The Fish & Wildlife Service operates the refuge.
"Mr. and Mrs. Anderson are not people of means; $2,000 is also a significant burden to them,'' Gabriel told the judge.
Brown agreed that the plea deal was "reasonable'' and that the time the couple already spent in jail was a "sufficient punishment.'' Sandra Anderson spent a couple of weeks and her husband three months before they were granted pretrial release. The maximum penalty for trespass is six months in custody and a $500 fine.
The judge also said she had listened during the first trial to the phone conversations Sean Anderson had with FBI crisis negotiators.
"I have to believe that was an extraordinarily difficult time,'' Brown said. "Good luck to you. I hope I don't have to see you again, and you probably feel the same way.''
After court, Sandra Anderson, standing with her husband, told reporters that she was dismayed that the judge denied them a right to a jury trial on the misdemeanor charges.
"God has directed us that our fight in the court is futile and we must move our battlefield again. We must continue educating people on the constitutional rights before they're long forgotten,'' she said.
Dylan Anderson, 36, known as "Captain Moroni," was at the refuge Jan. 3, photographed guarding the entrance with a rifle. Anderson had said he traveled to the refuge because he was inspired by Ammon Bundy, who was fighting federal control of public land.
Anderson also told a reporter that God, in the form of a flock of geese, had validated his desire to join the refuge takeover, according to court documents.
After his first trip to the refuge, he returned home for 13 days before heading back Jan. 21, his lawyer said. He left Jan. 27, leaving behind two guns, including an assault rifle and a handgun that had belonged to his grandfather, according to the FBI.
After the hearing, his court-appointed lawyer Samuel Kauffman said, "We consider this an unqualified victory for Dylan. You have to admire people who put their life on the line for freedom.''
Dylan Anderson said he was still concerned about the remaining defendants who weren't offered the same plea deal.
"Why are we the chosen ones?'' he asked. " I felt like I was going to abandon those other three guys.''
A fourth defendant, Darryl Thorn, who had negotiated the same deal, backed out of it during the weekend - his second time shunning a negotiated plea in the case.
"I'm not taking any DEALS...!'' Thorn wrote on his Facebook page Sunday night, with an emoji of a middle finger.
His trial with three others is set to begin Feb. 14.
They're charged with felonies, including conspiracy to impede federal workers from carrying out their duties at the refuge through intimidation, threat or force, possession of a firearm in a federal facility and depredation of government property, as well as misdemeanor charges of trespass, tampering with vehicles or equipment, or removal and destruction of government property.
-- Maxine Bernstein