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After Acquittals, Federal Prosecutors Prepare For Second Malheur Trial

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors on Friday regrouped to strategize for their next trial of armed militants who occupied a wildlife center in Oregon the day after seven others at a related trial were surprisingly acquitted of all charges.

The group’s leader, Ammon Bundy, and six others were declared not guilty on Thursday of conspiracy charges stemming from their role in the armed takeover and 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The stinging defeat left federal prosecutors scrambling as they prepare to try in February seven others who were part of the same occupation.

The criminal counts brought against them, which include conspiracy to impede federal officers, are similar to the charges on which Bundy and other were acquitted.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland abruptly canceled a news conference to discuss Thursday’s verdict.

“We’re just regrouping with our trial team for pending litigation,” said Kevin Sonoff, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oregon.

Bundy and his brother, Ryan, still face assault, conspiracy and other charges from a separate armed standoff in 2014 in Nevada.

The acquittal on criminal conspiracy counts and weapons charges delivered in federal court in Portland on Thursday also encouraged the group’s supporters.

Bundy and others cast the occupation of the wildlife refuge as a patriotic act of civil disobedience. Prosecutors called it a lawless scheme to seize federal property by force.

The relative silence of U.S. prosecutors on Friday gave little indication of how they will proceed with the trial against the Bundys in Nevada and the case against the second group of defendants in the Oregon occupation.

U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden in Nevada in a statement on Friday said the criminal case in that state is proceeding as planned with trial set for February, the same month as the second trial in Oregon.

“The Oregon case and charges are separate and unrelated to the Nevada case and charges,” Bogden said.

The Nevada case stems from a face-off the Bundy brothers and their supporters had near the Nevada ranch of their father, Cliven Bundy, with federal agents who had seized his cattle for his failure to pay grazing fees for his use of public land.

The Bundy brothers and their father remain jailed while awaiting trial in Nevada.

(Additional reporting by Joseph Ax in New York, Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

IMAGE: clockwise from top left) Ryan Bundy, Ammon Bundy, Brian Cavalier, Peter Santilli, Shawna Cox, Ryan Payne and Joseph O’Shaughnessy, limited-government activists who led an armed 41-day takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, are seen in a combination of police jail booking photos released by the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office in Portland, Oregon January 27, 2016.   Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

Oregon Police Shooting Of Refuge Occupier Justified: Prosecutor

By Dan Whitcomb

(Reuters) – The fatal shooting of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, one of the armed protesters who took over a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon in January, was “justified and necessary,” a county prosecutor said on Tuesday.

Finicum was shot and killed by Oregon State Police on Jan. 26 after he tried to flee a traffic stop on a snow-covered roadside during the armed occupation by lands rights protesters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Relatives of Finicum, 54, a spokesman for the group that seized buildings at the refuge, have previously said that he posed no threat and have rejected official assertions that he was armed when he was killed.

Speaking at a press conference in Bend, Oregon, Malheur County District Attorney Dan Norris said eight shots were fired at Finicum during the confrontation, six of them by Oregon State Police officers and two by FBI agents. Three of the bullets fired by Oregon State Police officers led to his death, he said.

“The six shots fired by the Oregon State Police were justified and in fact necessary,” Norris said.

Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson said a loaded 9mm handgun was found in the pocket of Finicum’s jacket following the shooting.

Nelson said Finicum was struck in the back by three of the bullets fired by state troopers who were behind him as he appeared to reach for that weapon.

In a video and audio tape of the incident played at the press conference, Finicum can be heard telling law enforcement officers: “Go ahead, put the bullet through me. I don’t care. I’m going to meet the sheriff. You do as you damn well please.”

The takeover, which began on Jan. 2, was sparked by the return to prison of two Oregon ranchers convicted of setting fires that spread to federal property in the vicinity of the refuge.

The leaders of the standoff, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, were arrested at the same traffic stop at which Finicum was slain.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Dan Grebler and Tom Brown)

Photo: Members of the Pacific Patriots Network visit a memorial for Robert ‘LaVoy’ Finicum where he was shot and killed by law enforcement on a highway north of Burns, Oregon January 31, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

The Bundys Are Bumbling Villains In This Western

Looks like that epic cowboy movie Cliven Bundy and his boys dreamed of playing starring roles in will never get made. Thankfully, their own epic stupidity ended the fantasy less in tragedy than in farce—definitely more “Blazing Saddles” than “The Wild Bunch.”

Or was it “Cliven Bundy and the Sundance Kid” they were going for? No matter. That one ended badly for the romantic outlaws too.

Apart from the needless death of one True Believer in a cowboy hat who committed what city folks call “suicide by cop”—announcing his determination never to be taken alive and then reaching for his pistol—the rest of Bundy’s sagebrush revolutionaries eventually surrendered without incident. Most are headed to Federal prison.

The ignominious end of their occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in remote eastern Oregon should serve as an object lesson to crackpot insurrectionists across the West. No, the public won’t come rushing to your support. Local ranchers wanted nothing to do with the uprising. A bird sanctuary was badly chosen place to make a stand. Put it this way: millions of Americans enjoy hiking, hunting, and bird-watching.

Cow-watching, not so much.

Nor have you intimidated the U.S. government. “Who are those guys?” Butch and Sundance wanted to know. But any two-bit drug dealer in Baltimore or New York could have told them that you can’t go around pointing guns at Federal agents and start traveling the countryside holding press conferences.

How foolish would you have to be to imagine you could? The Bundy sons vowed a bloody standoff at the Malheur refuge, and then announced a public meeting in the next county 100 miles away. Only one highway links the two places. FBI agents and Oregon state cops set up a roadblock at a remote spot and bagged the lot.

Family patriarch Cliven Bundy next announced his intention to show up in Oregon to support the remaining occupiers. But you can’t take no shooting iron on a commercial airline flight. Secure in the knowledge that he and his posse would be unarmed, agents met him at the gate. They’d been waiting almost two years for the old fool to set himself a trap.

The rebel rancher may never again be seen outside a courtroom. According to a press release distributed by the U.S. Attorney in Las Vegas: “Cliven Bundy and four others were indicted by the federal grand jury today on 16 felony charges related to the armed assault against federal law enforcement officers that occurred in the Bunkerville, Nev. area on April 12, 2014.” A U.S. District Judge in Oregon denied his bail request on the grounds that the 69 year-old rancher is clearly a flight risk.

The FBI grinds slow, but fine. Among the offenses Bundy’s charged with are “Assault on a Federal Law Enforcement Officer,” and “Threatening a Federal Law Enforcement Officer.” The first carries a 20 year sentence and $250,000 penalty; the second 10 years and $250,000.

The indictment stipulates that he and his sons Ryan and Ammon, “planned, organized, and led the assault in order to extort [government] officers into abandoning approximately 400 head of cattle that were in their lawful care and custody. In addition to conspiring among themselves to plan and execute these crimes, the defendants recruited, organized, and led hundreds of other followers in using armed force against law enforcement officers in order to thwart the seizure and removal of Cliven Bundy’s cattle from federal public lands. Bundy had trespassed on the public lands for over 20 years, refusing to obtain the legally-required permits or pay the required fees to keep and graze his cattle on the land.”

We all saw the whole thing on national TV. Back in Nevada, Federal officials who found themselves outnumbered four to one made a tactical decision not to risk a bloodbath over a herd of scrawny cows. At the expense of being criticized by people spoiling for a showdown, authorities apparently saw limited harm in letting Bundy declare victory while holing up at his remote desert ranch with his posse. Capturing him wasn’t worth a single agent’s life.

Which is why it’s so important that their patience paid off. Also crucial was the Oregon community’s near-unanimous rejection of the Bundy cause.

Cattle ranchers can certainly grow frustrated with government bureaucracy, but they also tend to be extremely practical people. The Bundy acolytes struck them as crackpots; their theories of constitutional law as zany as their tactics.

University of Oregon geography professor Peter Walker spent weeks documenting the local response. “At one community meeting,” he wrote “when almost the entire leadership of the Bundy group arrived unexpectedly, citizens of Harney County stood on their feet, pointed fingers at the Bundys and chanted “Go home! Go home! Go home!”

Real cowboys, see, can’t just go gallivanting off and leave their herds.

Particularly not in winter.

Photo: Inmates Ammon Bundy (L) and his brother Ryan Bundy are seen in a combination of police jail booking photos released by the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office in Portland, Oregon January 27, 2016.  REUTERS/MCSO/Handout via Reuters

Last Four Occupiers Surrender At Oregon Wildlife Refuge, Ending 41-Day Standoff

By Jimmy Urquhart

BURNS, Ore. (Reuters) – The four holdouts in an armed protest at a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon surrendered on Thursday, with the last occupier repeatedly threatening suicide during an intense phone call with mediators before he finally walked out, ending the 41-day standoff with the FBI.

David Fry, 27, had stayed behind for more than an hour and told supporters by phone he had not agreed with the other three to leave. The call was broadcast live on an audio feed posted on the Internet.

“I’m actually pointing a gun at my head. I’m tired of living,” Fry said during the phone call. He later added, “Until you address my grievances, you’re probably going to have to watch me be killed, or kill myself.”

Fry was alternately defiant and distraught during the rambling final call, veering from rants about the federal government to his thoughts on UFOs. He surrendered after taking a final cigarette and cookie and asking his mediators to shout “hallelujah.”

Authorities could be heard over the phone line telling him to put his hands up before the call disconnected. Portland’s KGW television later showed a caravan of sport utility vehicles escorted by police driving out of the refuge in remote eastern Oregon.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement the final four occupiers had surrendered and face charges of conspiracy to impede federal officers, along with 12 others previously arrested.

“The occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge has been a long and traumatic episode for the citizens of Harney County and the members of the Burns Paiute tribe,” U.S. Attorney Billy Williams said in the statement. “It is a time for healing, reconciliation amongst neighbors and friends, and allowing for life to get back to normal.”

Williams said now that all of the protesters had been taken into custody, law enforcement officials would “assess the crime scene and damage to the refuge and tribal artifacts.”

CLIVEN BUNDY ARRESTED

The takeover at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which began on Jan. 2, was sparked by the return to prison of two Oregon ranchers convicted of setting fires that spread to federal property in the vicinity of the refuge.

The standoff, which was originally led by brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, came to a head after the arrest on Wednesday in Portland of their father, Cliven Bundy. On Thursday he was charged with conspiracy, assault on a federal officer and obstruction of justice in connection with a separate 2014 standoff on federal land near his Nevada ranch.

The Malheur occupation had also been a protest against federal control over millions of acres public land in the West.

Ammon and Ryan Bundy had been arrested in January along with nine other protesters on a snow-covered roadside where a spokesman for the group, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was shot dead. A 12th member of the group surrendered to police in Arizona.

After Cliven Bundy’s arrest, three of four remaining occupiers surrendered to the FBI at the urging of Nevada state Assemblywoman Michele Fiore and Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of Christian evangelist Billy Graham. Fiore and Franklin Graham both traveled to the site.

Jeff Banta, 46, of Elko, Nevada, and married couple Sean Anderson, 48, and Sandy Anderson, 47, of Riggins, Idaho, surrendered peacefully, according to the webcast of a phone call with the protesters.

The protesters narrated the surrender, with the married Andersons described as emerging with their hands up, holding hands.

Fry arrived at the occupation within the first week, and told Oregon Public Broadcasting that he was inspired by Finicum. Fry emerged as one of the most outspoken protesters, due primarily to frequent, often angry rants on social media.

The skinny, bespectacled Ohio native from a military family has also expressed outrage when dealing with what appear to be minor criminal offenses in his past. In a YouTube video from September, Fry can be heard saying he refused to pay fines “for smoking marijuana on a river and not wearing a life jacket,” and then appears to set fire to a debt collection notice.

Fry’s father told Oregon Public Broadcasting that his son has also screamed at a police officer who had pulled him over for broken taillights.

The elder Fry said his son was bullied in high school because of his Japanese heritage, and that he worked odd jobs at his father’s dental office instead of following his father and brother into the U.S. Marines.

(Additional reporting by Shelby Sebens in Portland, Oregon; Barbara Goldberg and Joseph Ax in New York, Julia Edwards in Washington, Eric M. Johnson in Seattle and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Sara Catania, Jeffrey Benkoe and Lisa Shumaker)

Photo: Cliven Bundy is pictured in this undated booking handout image provided by the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office/Handout via Reuters