Jury deliberations concluded this week as Ammon Bundy and his six co-defendants have been acquitted of federal conspiracy and weapons charges relating to the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon.
The acquittals came as a surprise to federal prosecutors, as they had argued that the use of force, violence and intimidation by Bundy’s entourage would deem the occupiers liable for prison sentences. The jury however, sympathised with the defendants and their views on the federal ownership of woodland and other rural areas.
Tensions were high during the trial as Ammon Bundy’s lawyer, Marcus Mumford was restrained after an outburst complained about the lack of access to his clients through Bundy’s bail conditions. The defendants had admitted occupying the wildlife refuge, insisting that the government relinquish control of the property, yet their lawyers were successful in proving that they had technically not prevented federal employees from assessing the grounds or from doing their job.
Said to be inspired by divine theological beliefs, Bundy’s takeover was challenged by his call for militias to arrive at the refuge fully armed with weaponry, which prosecutors used to portray the defendants as violence perpetrators; yet this argument ultimately failed.
Kate Brown, Oregon’s governor, expressed regret at the judgement stating that the occupation “did not reflect the Oregon way of respectfully working together to resolve differences”, whilst Marcus Mumford, despite winning the case for the defendants, was dissatisfied that Ammon Bundy would remain in custody following charges in Nevada for the 2014 ‘Bundy Standoff’ concerning a dispute with the federal government over grazing rights for his father’s cattle.
The consequences of the trial could have a dramatic effect on the further occupation of federal facilities, as well as the governments overarching power in seizing land deemed to be used by the public. Whilst Bundy may still be in custody, he may very well be the poster child for vigilante militias and other extra-judicial groups claiming to uphold the constitution.
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