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Judge Convicts 4 Malheur Occupiers Of Misdemeanor Charges

<p>Oregon occupier Jason Patrick was found guilty of conspiracy but not guilty of carrying a firearm in a federal&nbsp;facility.</p>

Ryan Haas

Oregon occupier Jason Patrick was found guilty of conspiracy but not guilty of carrying a firearm in a federal facility.

Four defendants who participated in last year's occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon were convicted Tuesday of misdemeanors ranging from trespassing to damaging government property.

U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown, who oversaw two jury trials linked to the case, ruled directly on the misdemeanors. , she wrote each of the defendants “actively participated in the armed occupation of the MNWR.”

Brown convicted defendants Jason Patrick, Darryl Thorn, Jake Ryan and Duane Ehmer of trespassing and tampering with vehicles and equipment at the refuge. Patrick was also convicted of damaging property at the refuge.

“Nobody harbored any illusions about what was going to happen there,” said Andrew Kolhmetz, Patrick’s standby attorney, after the hearing. “The judge took them away from the jury on her own initiative. We always expected they would be found guilty.”

Patrick, who was in the courtroom for the verdicts, opted to be taken into custody rather than face GPS monitoring.

“Your honor, at this time Mr. Patrick would simply rather be taken into custody,” Kohlmetz said.

With that, the 43-year-old from Georgia stood, slipped off his blazer, took off his belt, and placed his hands behind his back as two U.S. marshals handcuffed him.

As he was being led out of the room, Patrick looked toward those gathered in the public section and said, “I love you.”

“Love you, Jason,” someone in the gallery shouted back.

Kohlmetz said Patrick will be given credit for time served.

While Brown convicted the defendants on almost all the misdemeanor charges, Ehmer and Thorn were acquitted on two of 11 counts.

Thorn was found not guilty of unlawfully starting a front-end loader that belonged to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Thorn contends the record reflects the equipment that he is alleged to have entered and started was not a ‘front-end loader’ as described in the Misdemeanor Information but instead, based on the testimony of MNWR Director Chad Karges, it was a ‘backhoe,’” Brown wrote in her ruling. “As a result, Thorn argues he must be acquitted of Count Four of the Misdemeanor Information.”

Brown also ruled the government failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ehmer unlawfully removed a maroon pouch from the refuge belonging to the Friends of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. That pouch contained checks, gas cards, a government ID, cash and credit cards.

“There is not any evidence from which the Court can find that Ehmer opened the pouch while it was in his possession or otherwise knew the pouch contained property belonging to the government or to the Friends,” Brown wrote.

A jury decided earlier this month to convict the four defendants on a range of federal felonies, including conspiracy to impede federal workers from doing their jobs. 

Tuesday's misdemeanor convictions will possibly add to the sentences of the four men. In some cases, the defendants could face as many as six years in prison.

Kevin Sali, a criminal defense attorney not associated with the case, said Brown will use a combination of federal sentencing guidelines and what’s allowed under legal statutes to determine a sentence for each of the defendants.

“No matter what, she’ll have a lot of authority,” Sali said. “With the percentage of criminal cases — particularly federal cases — that result through guilty pleas, a large amount of a defense attorney’s work these days is at the sentencing phase.”

In her rulings on the misdemeanors, Brown wrote Patrick helped to lead and maintain the armed occupation of the refuge.

“Patrick acted knowingly; that is, he knew neither he nor the other participants in the occupation were authorized to occupy the entirety of the MNWR headquarters compound during both daytime and nighttime hours or to exercise exclusive control over the compound,” Brown wrote.

In ruling on the tampering with vehicles and equipment charge, Brown wrote refuge employees used heavy construction equipment on a regular basis.

“There is not any evidence that any individual associated with the occupation of the MNWR brought any privately-owned heavy construction equipment to the MNWR,” she wrote. “The large excavator that Ehmer used to dig the trench near the west end of the public parking lot is government property. A reasonable person in Ehmer's circumstances would have known he did not have authorization to use the government-owned excavator.”

Some of the defendants who pleaded have already been sentenced. More are set to be sentenced in May.

Last fall, a jury acquitted occupation leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy on all charges stemming from the occupation.

Copyright 2017 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Conrad Wilson