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2nd Malheur Trial Goes To Jury, Tempers Flare Outside Courtroom

Bryan M. Vance
People line up to enter the federal courthouse in downtown Portland on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016.

The trial of four occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge went to the jury Tuesday afternoon. The 12-person jury will begin their deliberations Wednesday morning.

Attorneys spent much of Tuesday delivering closing arguments to jurors in U.S. District Court in Portland and tempers were high outside the courtroom.

During the morning recess on the ninth floor of courthouse, defendant Jason Patrick walked up to Jarvis Kennedy, a council member of the Burns Paiute Tribe.

The refuge covers some of the tribe’s sacred lands, and several Burns Paiute members expressed anger over damage to those lands during the 41-day occupation near Burns, Oregon.

“I want to apologize," Patrick started, before being interrupted by Kennedy.

“You need to walk the f away from me,” Kennedy replied. “You need to back up.”

Patrick stood there and Kennedy repeated himself.

After the encounter, Patrick said he went up to Kennedy to apologize for what happened.

“I want to tell him I’m sorry,” Patrick said. “I’m sorry if they feel slighted in some way.”

Patrick said the occupation was “not at all” about disrespecting tribal lands.

Many tribal artifacts are located at the Malheur refuge, and tribal officials say some were damaged during the occupation.

Kennedy said Patrick upset him.

“You’ve seen what happened,” Kennedy said. “Speaking of idiots, why would you want to poke a pissed off bear, which was doing?”

After the altercation, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight delivered the government’s closing arguments in the case. He went charge-by-charge for Patrick, Darryl Thorn, Jake Ryan and Duane Ehmer, before asking jurors to find the four guilty on all counts.

“At its core, this case is about four defendants that went too far,” Knight said in court.

Knight told jurors there is an overwhelming amount of evidence in the case to convict.

The government has charged the defendants with conspiracy to impede federal employees who worked at the refuge from doing their jobs through force, threats and intimidation. Some have also been charged with additional felonies, like depredation of property and weapons charges.

Last fall, a jury acquitted occupation leader Ammon Bundy and six others on some of the same charges, including conspiracy. Jurors at the time said the government failed to present clear evidence showing the occupiers intended to impede the federal employees.

Earlier Tuesday, the defense rested its case with a few final pieces of evidence, including a stipulation to jurors about how AR-15 rifles and other semi-automatic weapons are widely available for sale in the U.S. and have a variety of civilian uses, including hunting.

Portions of the government’s case included dozens of firearms recovered at the refuge and some 20,000 rounds of ammunition.

Before delivering closing arguments, federal prosecutors put on a rebuttal case.

Refuge manager Chad Karges testified he took safety measures after he learned the same people associated with the 2014 Bunkerville, Nevada, standoff were in Harney County before the occupation.

“At my house, I had loaded guns at every door,” he said. “Normally, the guns are locked in a safe.”

Karges also testified he was concerned about his family’s safety in late 2015. “After Christmas, I told my children and grandkids they could no longer visit Burns,” he said.

Karges testified he received a briefing from law enforcement on Jan. 7, 2016, after the occupation began, in which he learned about threats to federal employees.

“They were from the occupiers at the refuge,” he said. “After the briefing, we jointly made the decision to remove all refuge employees from the area.”

Outside the presence of the jury, Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoff Barrow told the court that during the Jan. 7 briefing, Karges learned the threats were about employees being kidnapped by the occupiers.

U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown ruled those specifics were too prejudicial.

“It’s not necessary for the jury to know it was as specific as a kidnapping threat,” she said, before the jury heard Karges’ testimony.

Refuge biologist Linda Beck also testified she was scared during the occupation. She read in a Reuters article the occupiers used her full name and occupation leader Ryan Bundy referenced her as “the carp lady.”

“I ran out to my driveway and locked my gate,” she testified. Beck said she also purchased a handgun.

The government’s final piece of evidence was a segment of an interview OPB aired on Jan. 9, 2016, with Ryan Bundy. In it, Bundy talks about the role guns play in the occupation.

The defense gave its closing arguments Tuesday afternoon. The attorneys focused their final remarks on many of the same themes from the first refuge trial.

Andrew Kohlmetz, Jason Patrick’s standby counsel, said there’s no evidence Patrick intended to impede federal employees.

He also sought to raise doubt about the government’s use of confidential informants at the refuge.

The government had nine informants at the refuge, Kohlmetz reminded jurors. Three have been made public, he said.

“What were those other six informants doing on the refuge?” he asked. “We don’t know. Who were they? We don’t know."

The government has said throughout the trial that none of the guns left at the refuge belonged to informants. But during testimony, FBI officials said informants were permitted to break the law to maintain their cover as members of the occupation.

“That in and of itself is reasonable doubt,” Kohlmentz concluded.

Marc Friedman, the attorney for Thorn, argued to jurors his client was a “pawn.”

“Mr. Thorn was a team player,” Friedman said in closing remarks. “He wasn’t the coach, he wasn’t the quarterback.”

Friedman said merely being at the refuge isn’t enough to find his client guilty.

“There was no conspiracy,” Friedman said. “Darrly Thorn wasn’t part of any conspiracy.”

Michele Kohler, Ehmer’s attorney, said the government started its case by saying there was no signed document, no recording, no direct evidence of an agreement to impede federal employees.

“It was never there,” she told the jury. “The thought was never given to the employees. went there on a holiday weekend.”

Copyright 2017 Oregon Public Broadcasting.