- Associated Press - Monday, November 7, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Federal prosecutors are urging a judge to reject Oregon refuge occupier Ryan Payne’s request to withdraw his guilty plea, saying he knew Ammon and Ryan Bundy were proceeding to trial and an acquittal was possible.

Payne, 33, of Anaconda, Montana, admitted in July that he conspired with others to prevent Interior Department employees from doing their jobs during the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildfire Refuge.

He was one of 11 defendants to plead guilty before the Bundy brothers and five co-defendants went ahead to trial and were found not guilty Oct. 27. So far, Payne’s the only one trying to withdraw his plea.

Prosecutors said Monday there is no fair and just reason to undo the agreement.

“Publicly, his co-defendants made clear that they planned to mount a vigorous defense that would include a number of claimed constitutional bases for their charged actions,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel wrote in a response to Payne’s motion, which was filed two weeks before the acquittals.

“The fact that seven of his co-defendants were acquitted was a distinct possibility when Payne entered his guilty plea; the fact that it came to pass does nothing to undermine his own knowing and intelligent plea.”

As part of the plea deal, the U.S. attorney’s office in Oregon recommended that Payne’s likely 3½-year prison sentence run at the same time as the punishment he could receive for his role in a 2014 standoff with federal agents at a Nevada ranch owned by Cliven Bundy. That was expected to be 7-to-12 years in prison.

Payne’s public defender Rich Federico said in court papers filed last month that the Nevada plea was only in draft form. Talks broke down, he said, and the offer is no longer available.

His Nevada trial is scheduled for February, the same month the remaining seven defendants in the Oregon case are scheduled for trial. Permitting a withdrawal now would likely require a third Oregon trial, one in which Payne would be tried alone.

Prosecutors have alleged the conspiracy began Nov. 5, 2015, when Ammon Bundy and Payne met with Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward and warned of civil unrest if he did not shield two local ranchers convicted of setting fires on public lands from having to return to federal prison.

After getting no help from Ward, the men led the armed occupation of the wildlife refuge.

Federico did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment on the government’s response.

When Payne pleaded guilty, U.S. District Judge Anna Brown repeatedly asked him if he was aware of the pros and cons of his decision, and if he believed he was making a rational decision free of outside pressure.

Payne insisted he knew what he was doing in relinquishing his right to a trial.

In his court filing last month, Federico said it was clear Payne had misgivings about the factual basis for his plea and if he was really guilty. He also pointed to new evidence discovered after the agreement, such as the extent to which the government used confidential informants at the refuge.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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