- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2017

Federal prosecutors who previously lost the big fish—Ammon Bundy—caught a couple of little fish Friday after an Oregon jury issued a split verdict against four men involved in the Malheur National Wildlife refuge occupation.

The jury found two men guilty of conspiracy for their roles in last year’s takeover led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy, even though a previous jury found the Bundy brothers and five others not guilty of the same charge in October.

This time, however, a jury convicted two Bundy followers, Jason Patrick, 43, and Darryl Thorn, 32, on conspiracy to impede federal employees. Thorn was also found guilty of possessions of firearms at a federal facility.

The two other men on trial in Portland federal court—Duane Ehmer, 46, and Jake Ryan, 27—were found not guilty of conspiracy, but guilty of depredation of government property for digging trenches at the refuge headquarters near Burns, Oregon.

In January 2016, several dozen protesters, many openly carrying rifles, took over the vacant office building used by staffers for the Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management in a protest against federal land-management policies.

Billy J. Williams, U.S. Attorney for Oregon, told reporters after the verdict that “taking up arms and occupying federal lands and property that interferes with federal employees discharging their duties is and will continue to be illegal.”

“The fact that there were two different juries who viewed the evidence differently is not uncommon in terms of the way the American jury trial system works,” Mr. Williams said at the press conference live-streamed on KOIN-TV in Portland.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Barrow said prosecutors placed more emphasis during the second trial on the federal employees who were stopped from doing their jobs, and “I think the jury got that.”

“We did make some strategic changes based on the way the evidence was presented, the manner in which it was presented, certainly emphasizing how the FBI handled the investigation, but at the end of the day the facts were essentially the same,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight. “In our system, juries can reach different conclusions.”

The jury deliberated three days before handing down the verdicts. The men will be sentenced May 10 at the federal courthouse in Portland.

Another 14 occupiers avoided going to trial by entering guilty pleas as part of plea bargains.

The Bundy brothers, along with their father Cliven Bundy, remain in custody in Las Vegas awaiting trial on federal charges stemming from a standoff with BLM agents at the family’s ranch near Bunkerville, Nevada.

A federal magistrate has divided the trial into three parts for the 19 defendants involved in the standoff. The trial for the first six of those accused, none of whom belongs to the Bundy family, began Feb. 6 in federal court in Las Vegas.

After Friday’s verdict, Patrick told the Oregonian that he planned to appeal, describing the protest as a “peaceful assembly to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Ehmer said he planned to go home to Irrigon, Oregon, before returning to Portland for sentencing, adding that he was dispirited because “now I’m a felon.”

“I’m headed home to go ride my pony for a couple months and then I’m going to take my mom fishing. That’s about it,” Ehmer, who rode a horse named Hellboy at the refuge, the Oregonian reported.

One occupation leader, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, 54, was shot and killed Jan. 26 at an FBI roadblock. Local investigators later ruled the shooting justified after aerial video showed him reaching toward his jacket, where he had a 9mm handgun, before he was shot by state troopers.

His widow, Jeanette Finicum, has said he was trying to surrender and has accused the government of assassinating him.

Supporters of the occupiers have argued that they were exercising their First Amendment rights, while Mr. Williams said the defendants “were not on trial for their beliefs but rather for their conduct.”

“I think the message is, we can’t have folks taking over buildings and property that belong to all of us, all Americans,” said Mr. Williams. “It’s not just the citizens of Harney County, it’s all Americans who own this federal property.”

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