The Fickle and Whimsical Nature of the Law
By Scott Rohter, March 2017
The occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is over. It ended in January 2016 with the tragic shooting death of Lavoy Finicum. It ended with the arrest of Ammon and Ryan Bundy and about two dozen other protestors who were also at the Refuge. The occupation of the Refuge by the protestors is over, but the occupation of half of the State of Oregon by the Federal government still goes on to this day. In fact the occupation of 700 million acres of land in twelve Western States still goes on to this day.
It is a fact that half of the land in twelve western states is owned, managed, and controlled by Congress. This amounts to twenty-five percent of all the land in the entire country. It is a huge violation of the Constitution and an even bigger violation of the Equal Footing Principle by which all new States were supposed to be admitted into the Union on the same basis as all of the other States. (See map below)
The defendants in the occupation trial of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge were divided into two groups for trial by the judge. That should have never been allowed. It gave the government two chances to try the same exact case, albeit with different defendants. Ammon and Ryan Bundy along with five other defendants went on trial first in September of 2016. After a six week long trial they were all found NOT GUILTY of all charges which included the felony charge of conspiracy to impede federal officials and the felony charge of carrying firearms on a Federal facility.
Then another group of seven defendants was scheduled to go on trial in February 2017. After three of the defendants accepted a plea deal in which they agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor trespass charges in return for which government prosecutors would drop the more serious charge of conspiracy, the remaining four defendants went on trial. One of these four defendants was Darryl Thorn. The government offered him the same plea deal as they offered the other three defendants, but he opted not to take it. Instead he chose to stand trial along with Jake Ryan, Duane Ehmer, and Jason Patrick who were not offered any plea deal. Those were the final four defendants to have their cases heard by a jury.
The second trial resulted in very different verdicts than the verdicts that were delivered in the first trial.. Without the presense of Ammon Bundy in shackles and prison clothes and Ryan Bundy representing himself, every one of the final four defendants was convicted of at least one felony. Darryl Thorn was the big loser.
Jason Patrick and Darryl Thorn were convicted of conspiracy. In addition Mr. Thorn was also convicted of violating federal firearms statutes which prohibit carrying firearms on federal property. Duane Ehmer and Jake Ryan were both convicted of “depradation of government property” for digging a hole with an excavator which carries an even longer prison sentence than the conspiracy charge does.
Now we have the bitter irony that the leaders of the so called conspiracy were found not guilty of conspiracy while two of their followers were found guilty of conspiracy by a different jury. Such is the fickle and whimsical nature of the law.