Wildlife Ore­gon refuge oc­cu­piers in shock ac­quit­tal

Malta Independent - - WORLD -

Seven lead­ers of an armed mili­tia who led a 41-day stand-off at a US fed­eral wildlife refuge in Ore­gon have been cleared of the charges against them.

The sur­prise ver­dict ac­quit­ted them of con­spir­acy and firearms of­fences.

A lawyer for one of the lead­ers, Am­mon Bundy, was tack­led to the ground by US mar­shals af­ter shout­ing at the judge.

The mili­tia oc­cu­pied the refuge in early Jan­uary, ac­cus­ing the gov­ern­ment of un­law­ful in­ter­fer­ence in the af­fairs of ranch­ers.

One pro­tester was shot dead by po­lice dur­ing a con­fronta­tion out­side the refuge when some of the de­fen­dants were ar­rested, days be­fore the oc­cu­pa­tion was brought to a peace­ful end in Fe­bru­ary.

The stand-off high­lighted the sim­mer­ing re­sent­ment among ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties in the US West over fed­eral con­trol of land.

A to­tal of 26 peo­ple have been charged over the stand-off. Some have al­ready pleaded guilty to con­spir­acy.

A sec­ond group of de­fen­dants is due to stand trial in Fe­bru­ary.

Pros­e­cu­tors ar­gued the de­fen­dants, led by Am­mon Bundy and his brother Ryan, had kept fed­eral em­ploy­ees from their jobs at the Mal­heur Na­tional Wildlife

Refuge.

But de­fence lawyers say the jury was un­able to find beyond rea­son­able doubt that the oc­cu­piers had in­tended to pre­vent fed­eral of­fi­cers from go­ing to work.

Drama erupted in the court­room af­ter Am­mon Bundy’s de­fence lawyer Mar­cus Mum­ford shouted at the judge, de­mand­ing the im­me­di­ate re­lease of his client. As the ex­change es­ca­lated, court mar­shals tack­led him to the ground and used a stun gun on him.

Judge Anna Brown said Mr Bundy could not be re­leased be­cause he and his brother still faced charges in a sep­a­rate armed stand-off case at their fa­ther’s ranch in Ne­vada in 2014.

Lawyers for the de­fen­dants ex­pressed their sur­prise at the ver­dict, in­clud­ing Robert Sal­is­bury who de­scribed it as a “stun­ning vic­tory for the de­fence”.

Along­side the Bundy broth­ers, Jeff Banta, Neil Wampler, Ken­neth Me­den­bach, David Fry and Shawna Cox were all cleared of the charges.

Dur­ing the oc­cu­pa­tion ear­lier this year, the group es­tab­lished armed pa­trols and vet­ted those who vis­ited the refuge. They said the takeover was a jus­ti­fied act of civil dis­obe­di­ence against an over­reach­ing fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

Af­ter sev­eral weeks one of the protesters, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was shot dead dur­ing a 26 Jan­uary traf­fic stop out­side the refuge as the Bundys and sev­eral oth­ers were de­tained.

Af­ter the ac­quit­tals, US At­tor­ney for the District of Ore­gon Billy Wil­liams said he had “hoped for a dif­fer­ent out­come”.

But he said he strongly be­lieved the case needed to be brought be­fore a court and de­cided by a jury.

The FBI also said it was “ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed in the ver­dict”.

A woman made up as a skull par­tic­i­pates in Day of the Dead fes­tiv­i­ties in Mex­ico City on Thurs­day. The hol­i­day hon­ours the dead as friends and fam­i­lies gather in ceme­ter­ies to dec­o­rate their loved ones’ graves and hold vigil through the night on Nov. 1 and 2 Pho­to­graph: AP

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