A jury delivered an extraordinary blow to the government in a long-running battle over the use of public lands when it acquitted all seven defendants involved in the armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge in rural southeastern Oregon.
Article by Tribune news service
Tumult erupted in the courtroom Thursday after the verdicts were read when an attorney for group leader Ammon Bundy demanded his client be immediately released and repeatedly yelled at the judge. U.S. marshals tackled attorney Marcus Mumford to the ground, used a stun gun on him several times and arrested him.
U.S. District Judge Anna Brown said she could not release Bundy because he still faces charges in Nevada stemming from an armed standoff at his father Cliven Bundy‘s ranch two years ago.
The Portland jury acquitted Bundy, his brother Ryan Bundy and five others of conspiring to impede federal workers from their jobs at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, 300 miles southeast of Portland. The jury could not reach a verdict on a single count of theft for Ryan Bundy.
Even attorneys for the defendants were surprised by the acquittals.
“It’s stunning. It’s a stunning victory for the defense,” said Robert Salisbury, attorney for defendant Jeff Banta. “I’m speechless.”
The U.S Attorney in Oregon, Billy J. Williams, issued a statement defending the decision to bring charges against the seven defendants: “We strongly believe that this case needed to be brought before a Court, publicly tried, and decided by a jury.”
The Oregon case is a continuation of the tense standoff with federal officials at Cliven Bundy’s ranch in 2014. Cliven, Ammon and Ryan Bundy are among those who are to go on trial in Nevada early next year for that standoff.