Leaders Of Oregon Wildlife Refuge Standoff Acquitted

Oct 27, 2016
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Jurors in the Oregon occupation trial have reached a verdict. They have found the defendants not guilty of illegally occupying a federal wildlife refuge earlier this year and not guilty of conspiracy to commit a crime. Joining me from Oregon Public Broadcasting is reporter Amanda Peacher, who covered the occupation from the start. Hello there.

AMANDA PEACHER, BYLINE: Hi there, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So these defendants clearly were on the wildlife refuge. What does this not guilty verdict actually mean?

PEACHER: Well, let's remember that there were seven defendants total in this case, including leader Ammon Bundy, and that the main charge that they were all facing was conspiracy to prevent federal workers from doing their jobs. So, obviously, the jury has decided that they were not guilty of that charge. And if they could not agree on that conspiracy charge, count one, then they couldn't be found guilty of the weapons charges associated with that.

MCEVERS: What were the arguments from the prosecution?

PEACHER: Well, they argued that Ammon Bundy and his followers showed up at the refuge intending to impede those federal workers, even if they didn't say that outright. Prosecutors said that with occupiers sitting at someone else's desks while armed, that's - that that was an implicit threat that that worker is not welcomed there and that more broadly, occupying the refuge was a symbol that overall these workers were not welcome there, that the occupiers wanted this place for themselves.

MCEVERS: And what was the defense in the case?

PEACHER: Well, their - interestingly, had a - they had a more emotional appeal to the jury that they could be the ones to stand between what they call federal government overreach and the people who live in the rural West in this part of Oregon. They really presented this as a First Amendment protest bolstered by Second Amendment gun rights. So they said Ammon Bundy was exercising freedom of speech against federal lands ownership and that they had every right to bear arms while doing so.

MCEVERS: How are people in Harney County - that's where this occupation took place - how are they reacting to this verdict?

PEACHER: I think it's a huge surprise to the small community where this took place. I think a lot of people are very upset. Remember that the effect that the occupation had on Harney County was not really considered as part of this case. But still, people there told me that they were hoping for a guilty verdict as a form of justice for the turmoil the occupation caused in this very small, remote community. So to some in this part of Oregon, the not guilty verdict means the occupiers got away with disrupting the work of the refuge and the lives of residents.

MCEVERS: And what does this verdict mean for Ammon Bundy and his supporters?

PEACHER: I think that, for them, it means that this level of action was justified. They are celebrating right now. This is a big vindication. It may bolster their confidence even, and I would not be surprised if there were other similar attempts to take action against the federal government in the wake of this jury decision.

MCEVERS: That's Oregon Public Broadcasting's Amanda Peacher on today's verdict in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge takeover. Thank you very much.

PEACHER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.