Misportrayed – The Most Mischaracterized Trial and the Most Misunderstood Defendants in Oregon History… Ammon and Ryan Bundyon Saturday, October 22, 2016
Summary of Testimony and Closing Arguments in
The Occupation Trial of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
By Scott Michael Rohter, October 2016
Historical Background Leading up to the Trial, and Testimony
The trial of Ammon and Ryan Bundy and five other defendants who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January of 2016 is notable both for what is being discussed in the courtroom and for what is not being discussed in the courtroom. What isn’t being discussed or barely being discussed in the courtroom forms the underlying basis for all of the defendant’s actions and the alleged crimes which they have been accused of committing.
The discussion that is not going on inside the walls of Federal District Court… the one which can only be settled by Congress concerns a much bigger occupation. This is the occupation of over seven hundred million acres of land in twelve western States by the Federal government. Seven hundred million acres of land is half of the land west of the Rocky Mountains. That is about 25% of all the land in the entire country… and all of this land was confiscated from just twelve States. They were the last twelve States to join the Union beginning with California in 1850 and ending with Alaska in 1959 (This list doesn’t include Hawaii which became a State in 1959). The twelve effected States lie beyond or at least partially beyond the Rocky Mountains.
The occupation of Western States dates all the way back to the Reconstruction Era, and the period following the Civil War when Federal troops occupied the South As time went by and the occupation of Southern States came to an end the focus of the Federal government’s occupation shifted from to the West. and as it did it changed from directl control of the people to controlling their land and resources. If you control the land and the resources then you also control the people.
A combined total of 50% of the land in America’s twelve Western States was confiscated by Congress when these States were admitted to the Union. It was the price they paid for becoming States, but that price violated a fundamental principle that dates all the way back to the founding of our country… It violates the Equal Footing Principle by which all States were supposed to be admitted to the Union on the same basis as all of the other States. All new States were supposed to be admitted to the Union on the same basis as all of the previous States. That was the intent of the Equal Footing Principle.
Seven hundred million acres is an area bigger than the size of most countries in the world. The occupation of this land has to come to an end. I would prefer to see it come to an end sooner rather than later, and peacefully rather than violently, but it must come to an end one way or the other.
The most persecuted family in America today is the Bundy Family. The members of this family are primarily cattle ranchers. They live in four western states which are largely owned by the Federal government. These states are Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Idaho. Together with the Hammond Family of eastern Oregon these two families are at the top of the Justice Department’s hit list for prosecution. It doesn’t seem to matter who the President is or who the Attorney General is. Whether it is Donald Trump or Barack Obama, Loretta Lynch of Jeff Sessions it makes no difference.. The Hammonds and the Bundy family are being prosecuted because they are leading a national effort to get Congress to reconsider the constitutionality of the Federal government’s control over so much confiscated State land.
Congress considers approximately 700 million acres of land which it currently controls through one federal agency or another as America’s public lands. These lands are strictly controlled and managed primarily by three government departments: The Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. These lands were essentially stolen from the last twelve States to join the Union. What follows is a table listing these twelve western States in the order that they were admitted to the Union and the amount of land that was confiscated from each State by Congress under the twelve different Enabling Acts. The data in this table is approximate as the Federal government continues to seize more land and claim them as National Parks and Monuments. It is unclear whether the actual percentage of land owned by the Federal government in each state includes the lands that are administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. If it does not than these percentages would actually be much higher. Here is one source that I used for this table: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42346.pdf Another excellent article on this subject is linked here: http://www.deseretnews.com/top/2318/0/From-03-to-811-What-percentage-of-each-state-is-owned-by-the-federal-government.html
1) California 1850 48% owned by the Federal government
2) Oregon 1859 53% owned by the Federal government
3) Nevada 1864 85% owned by the Federal government
4) Colorado 1876 37% owned by the Federal government
5) Montana 1889 30% owned by the Federal government
6) Washington 1889 35% owned by the Federal government
7) Wyoming 1890 48% owned by the Federal government
8) Idaho 1890 62% owned by the Federal government
9) Utah 1896 67% owned by the Federal government
10) Arizona 1912 48% owned by the Federal government
11) New Mexico 1912 41% owned by the Federal government
12) Alaska 1959 69% owned by the Federal government
Five States which are largely owned by the Federal government are at the root core of this States rights issue. They are Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, and Oregon. That is because the ranchers and farmers who are leading this battle live in these five States. A combined total of 60% percent of the land in these five states is either controlled by the BLM, the Fish and Wildlife Service, or the U.S. Forest Service. When you add to that the land controlled by the Bureau of Indian Affairs the amount is even higher. This fact makes life extremely difficult for farmers and ranchers living in these States and for native Americans as well. The poverty level for members of America’s Indian tribes is at least four times higher than it is for the rest of the nation. The fact that so many Western counties can’t even afford to provide basic government services for their residents, and the fact that so many Indians are living below the poverty level can both be traced back to the same problem… The problem is that Congress controls their land and their resources. Whoever controls the land and the resources controls the people.
Other than ranching and cattle, the Bundys and the Hammonds didn’t really have much in common until a few years ago. They didn’t even know each other, but when the BLM started going after the Hammond Ranch with the same callous disregard for their constitutional rights as they had gone about impounding the Bundy’s cattle… a common enemy united them in a shared destiny. It bound these two families together in an epic struggle of good against evil like the one epitomized in the Bible by the story of David and Goliath.. Their common enemy is our completely out of control Federal government and their common destiny is their desire to live as free men and women without the fear of reprisal from the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Justice.
The members of these two families have stood up to the full force and power of the Federal government which has violated their property rights and now wants to confiscate their land in the same way that it confiscated so much of the land in the last twelve States to join the Union. It has cost the Bundy’s and the Hammond’s dearly. Dwight and Stephen Hammond are serving the remainder of a five year mandatory minimum jail term in a southern California Federal Prison over a thousand miles away from their family and friends
Cliven Bundy and his four sons are all behind bars… They are Ammon, Ryan, Mel, and David. It has also cost the Finicum family of Arizona dearly. Jeanette Finicum‘s lost her husband of 22 years when challenged the federal governments control of State land and he was shot in the back three times by Oregon State police officers and allowed to die on the edge of a road. Her thirteen children are now fatherless .
When you see someone taking a stand to defend their own rights that is understandable, but when you see that person risking their own life to in order to defend someone else’s rights that is unusual. That what Ammon and Ryan Bundy did. That is what Lavoy Finicum did. That is the kind of men that they are. In the case of Lavoy Finicum… that is the kind of man that he was. When you see courageous people willing to risk their own lives in order to help someone else how can you let them stand alone? That is the question that I asked myself, and the answer I learned was that I couldn’t.
I have seen articles written about these brave American patriots that are routinely published over and over again by the mainstream media and left wing activist groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and I trip and stumble over such words used to describe them as anti-government activists, outlaw ranchers, or constitutional extremists. What is a constitutional extremist? Someone who believes that the Constitution means what it says and says what it means has become a constitutional extremist all of a sudden? Is that what it means? Someone who believes in the original intent of the Founding Fathers is now a constitutional extremist? Was the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia a “constitutional extremist” ? I wonder what the left leaning Southern Poverty Law Center would say about that. Perhaps if members of their group would look in a mirror they would see who the real purveyors of extremism are in America today.
Since I determined that I couldn’t let these fine Americans stand alone just like they decided that they could not let the Hammonds of Burns, Oregon stand alone I have attended their trial in Portland as an observer and spent more than a week in the courtroom. What I have discovered about our legal system has shocked and saddened me.
The law isn’t about justice or mercy… It is about precedent and protocol. Our sixth President John Quincy Adams who was a lawyer said this: “The law is an artificial human construct., and it is of no use outside of a courtroom.” After observing the trial of Ammon and Ryan Bundy and their five co-defendants I am not sure if it is still of any use inside of a courtroom either.
There were thousands of objections raised by the prosecution over the course of this six week long trial. Nearly 99% of these objections were sustained by the Judge. Most of the evidence presented by the defense was labeled as cumulative and barred from the courtroom instead of considering that it was corroborative and allowing the jury to hear it.
There were fifteen paid government informants who infiltrated the protestors while they were at the Wildlife Refuge… There are only seven defendants on trial. The informant to defendant ratio is two to one. There will be seven more defendants going on trial next month. That means there were still more informants at the Refuge than there will be actual defendants in the courtroom. The government was only required to release the names of three of these informants. The defense attorneys were required to stipulate to the jury that there were nine informants not fifteen. Meanwhile the names of the other twelve informants are not going to be released. They are still be around probably mixing with supporters or visiting the defendants in jail. No one knows who they are, and no one is ever going to know who they are. All efforts to reveal their names have been blocked by the prosecution and by Judge Brown.
The prosecution presented their case first. They also got to go last. They had the first word and the last word. It seems unfair. The very last thing the jury heard before they adjourned to deliberate the merits of the government’s case was the government’s rebuttal to the defense’s closing arguments. It isn’t right. It isn’t even reasonable, but the law is not about what is right or what is reasonable. It is about legal precedent and legal protocol. That is what I learned from following this trial.
Legal precedent is like a plane flying on auto pilot straight into the side of a mountain. You hope the pilot would assume control of the plane and redirect it so it doesn’t crash into the mountain killing everyone on board, but the law doesn’t worry about saving its passengers.. and it doesn’t care about the plane. That plane is our country. The only thing the law cares about is something called Stare Decisis, or legal precedent… If something goes wrong because of the law and our country goes crashing into the side of the mountain with everyone on board then so be it.. The law is the law… It must be followed. Justice is blind… but not in the way that you thought.
Anna Brown is the judge in the Occupation Trial of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. She is openly biased… Putting her hands on her face and rolling her eyes sends pretty obvious signals to the jurors, and so does the very condescending way in which she addresses Ryan Bundy who is representing himself.
None of the defendants are allowed to discuss the Constitution in front of the jury. Only a lawyer is qualified to properly understand it and explain it, or even to discuss it in front of the jury in the judge’s opinion… Ammon Bundy wasn’t permitted to read from the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. He was also prohibited from reading the Bible or from another religious book he believes in… None of the things which are so important to understanding why Mr. Bundy did what he did could be entered into evidence during the trial.
“I would be happy to read from the Constitution your honor” Ammon said… Objection! The prosecution blurted out… Objection sustained, responded the judge… “No thank you Mr. Bundy. The court instructs the jury to disregard Mr. Bundy’s last remarks.” This is just a snapshot of how the trial proceeded with Anna Brown firmly in control of the proceedings, but what do you expect from someone who was appointed to the bench by Bill Clinton?
Ammon said that his older brother Ryan and Lavoy Finicum had just come up to Burns on January 2, the day of the rally and neither had any plans to stay. Lavoy’s intentions were to return to Arizona within a day or two, and Ryan didn’t even bring a change of clothes with him. Neither man knew what Ammon had been contemplating. Ammon said he never saw David Fry with a gun. When asked if he was the leader of the occupation Ammon responded, “ I guess I am, but I would like to make something clear. I never tell someone else what to do. I teach correct principles and I let other people govern themselves.”
Ammon testified that on January 27th there was a meeting with key individuals from Harney County to discuss how to begin implementing a plan to return some of Harney County’s land to its rightful owners. On the way to another meeting in Grant County to speak with local ranchers about reclaiming their property rights Ammon said that the vehicle he was traveling in was approached from behind. “We pulled over and I saw that there were men in the trees. There were red dots all over me. I was aware that my life was in danger, and I was not armed.. I was afraid to even reach for my hat when I got out of the car so I didn’t dare ask anyone why I was being arrested. I was forced to lay on the ground for several hours in the cold and in the snow. Then I was told to crawl backwards on my hands and knees on the asphalt. Eventually I asked why I was being arrested, but I didn’t receive an answer. I knew that my life was in danger, but I believed that the risk we had taken was worth it because of everything that was happening to ranchers and farmers in the West.”
“Since the armed standoff at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada I have flown on airplanes about forty different times. Each time I have been taken into a back room and strip searched.. I knew that something was different, but I didn’t know what. Later I found out that I was placed on a terrorist watch list because Senator Harry Reid called me a terrorist. I am not a terrorist. I love my country.“
Reflecting on his activities on behalf of the Hammonds he said, “I knew that a protest wasn’t enough. After each protest nothing ever changed. The government just continued to inflict abuses upon the people and take more of our rights away.”
Referring to what role his father might have played in the occupation Ammon said, “None really. He taught me to do the right thing and deal with the consequences.”
Speaking about his organizational efforts while at the Refuge Ammon said, “We were careful to take the credit cards out of the trucks so they couldn’t be used by any of the protestors. I put the cards and the money in a safe place so they could be returned to their rightful owners. We marked the level of fuel in the main fuel tank so we could leave it with the same amount of fuel that it originally had in it. Mr. Mumford asked, Did you or anyone else dig any trenches on the property before you were arrested? Ammon said, “No”. Did the fact that politicians were coming to see you at the Refuge make you think that what you were doing was working? Ammon said, “Yes”. Does it still feel like it is worth it? Mr. Mumford asked. “Yes”, Ammon responded. Are you willing to die for this? “I don’t want to die, but I would be willing to die.” Then he referred to Martin Luther King and he said, “If someone isn’t willing to take a hard stand then things never change.” After his testimony on the witness stand he was then placed under cross examination by the prosecutors.
At one point in their cross examination the prosecutors asked Mr. Bundy in a stern voice, “Do you think you can just walk into any government facility and stake a claim of adverse possession Mr. Bundy?” Of course not, he said. There has to be a legal basis for a title dispute. I can’t just walk into a post office and do what you suggested because there is no basis for a title dispute.”
But the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is not the same thing as a Post Office, or a military base, or a Federal courthouse. Article 1 Section 8 of the United States Constitution gives the Federal government the authority to maintain post offices, and courthouses, and military basis, along with “other needful buildings.”
Other needful buildings refers to any building that is necessary for the proper administration of the government’s legitimate constitutional powers, but there is no way that other needful buldings can be construed to provide the basis for a 140,000 acre bird sanctuary. There is no way that the language in Article 1 Section 8 can be stretched to infer that the government can do that… not under the Enclave Cause… not under the General Welfare Clause and certainly not anywhere else in Article 1 Section 8. Ammon went on to testify on the witness stand that, “The Federal government cannot own any land in any State without the consent of the State legislature,” and he is absolutely right about that.
Article 1 Section 8 Clause 17 reads as follows… “… (The Congress shall have power) To exercise authority over all places purchased by the consent of the State Legislature for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings.” The State Legislature must give its final approval before the Federal government can buy it, and the only purposes this land can be specifically used for are stated in the Constitution. There is no other purpose for which land can be used by the Federal government other than those which are stated in the Constitution. The Federal government has no other constitutional basis to own land in any State.
Then Federal prosecutors asked Ammon Bundy if he had in fact a small business loan from the government. “Yes, and I have made all of my payments. I am even managing to make my payments while I am in jail. I went to a bank in Idaho and I borrowed some money for my business. I don’t see anything wrong with that. I don’t know if the Federal government lent the bank the money or if they are just the guarantors on the loan, but I don’t see any place in the Constitution where the Federal government is forbidden from promoting commerce. We could get into the Constitution if you want.”
“No thank you , Mr Bundy.”
After spending a week in the courtroom my perception of this trial is that the government is trying to claim that it doesn’t have to follow the Constitution anymore, and that any other laws regarding land use and property rights which have to be obeyed by the people likewise don’t have to be followed by the government either such as the laws regarding adverse possession. It is also clear to me that the government’s motive in ending the occupation of the Refuge was that it looked like they were losing control and they wanted to quickly restore law and order, but what they fail to see or understand is that all law and order is based on the Constitution and you can’t have law and order without respect for the Constitution.
Marcus Mumford speaking on behalf of Ammon Bundy was the first to make his closing arguments after the Prosecution finished theirs. I thought he was magnificent. He began by telling the jurors what an honor it was to represent a man like Ammon Bundy, and he ended his remarks by asking the jury to stand up for his client just like his client had stood up for the Hammonds… against injustice. “The only thing standing between my client and the Federal government is you , the jury.” In the middle Mr. Mumford displayed several passages from the Constitution and great quotes from American presidents on the video screen.. One from Woodrow Wilson was, “If you want to make enemies just try to change the status quo.” Another from John Adams was “If people don’t put limits on the Federal government they shall be ridden like horses, and fleeced like sheep…”
Mr. Mumford quipped that there were more informants in this case then there are actual defendants in this courtroom and we still don’t know who they all are. He pointed out that the defendants can’t be accused of a conspiracy if they were conspiring with government informants. That is called entrapment. He was careful to spend some time on the legal definition of reasonable doubt as beyond a reasonable doubt is the level of certainty that the jury has to find before they can convict any of the defendants in this case. He spoke at great length about the origin of the concept of reasonable doubt and why the bar became so high in criminal cases. He explained that it was more for the souls of the jurors than it was for the souls of those actually accused of a crime.
Mr. Mumford pointed out how the prosecution called forty-seven witnesses and all but three of them worked for the government. All but two of the government witnesses were paid by the government… They are Butch Eaton and Nick Bleuler.
The acts of an informant with a defendant cannot form the basis of a conspiracy. The only person with a gun in the car with Ammon Bundy when he was arrested was a paid government informant named Mark McConnell. Mr Mumford pointed out videos selectively edited by the prosecution and the court can lead jurors to come to an incorrect conclusion. He demonstrated this by playing a rough draft of a you tube video that Ammon recorded but never released because he was not happy with the message it left.
Mumford said that just because BLM employees or employees of the Fish and Wildlife Service were not actually at their desks during the occupation that didn’t necessarily mean that they couldn’t do their jobs, but it does prove that the defendants never threatened them or intimidated them. They weren’t even there. You can’t impute a threat to somebody or claim that someone intimidated someone else without any evidence of it. You cannot surmise what would have happened if one of the USFWS employees who didn’t hear about the order to stay home would have showed up at the Refuge. “You cannot make conclusions from a lack of evidence”, he said. If you have any questions at all after listening to the government’s case than you must find the defendants not guilty.
The District Manager for the Fish and Wildlife Service told his employees not to report to work before the occupation ever began not because of anything the defendants had done or were going to do… No one had any idea what the defendants were going to do at this point.. Not even the defendants knew what was going to happen next because Ammon didn’t tell anybody what he was thinking.. The only one who knew anything about going to the Refuge was Ammon which proves that there was no conspiracy. Rather it was a spontaneous response to what had happened to the Hammonds. The District manager of the Fish and Wildlife Service3 told his employees to stay home because of something that the government itself had done when it became known around town that they had obtained a first right of refusal on the Hammond Ranch yet they were still going to send the Hammonds back to jail for five more years.
Ammon’s attorney said that what his client had done was a lawful response to a violation of Article 1 Section 8 Clause 17 of the Constitution and that the defendants had the right to keep and bear arms when lawfully exercising their First Amendment Rights. Then he listed some of the things that the defendants had done to begin a claim of adverse possession. They changed the sign at the entrance to the Refuge. They changed other signs. They obtained a Post Office Box for the newly created Harney County Resource Center. They paid for the garbage to be picked up. They controlled the ingress and egress to the facility. Mr. Bundy was clearly demonstrating his intentions to stake a claim of adverse possession to the Refuge. Whether he would have prevailed in a court of law is not the question here. You are not being asked to decide the merits of his claim of adverse possession. You are only being asked to judge him based on his intentions, not whether he was right or wrong.
Ammon knew that the land on which the Refuge was built was not purchased with the consent of the Oregon State Legislature therefore it was a violation of Article 1 Sec 8 Clause 17 of the Constitution.
Furthermore Mr. Mumford was careful to distinguish between Ammon Bundy’s actual intent and the unintended consequences of his actions. You are not judging Mr. Bundy based on the effect of his actions, but rather on his intent. Then referring to Shawna Cox he said that Ms. Cox didn’t take any official government records as charged. In her capacity of researching the history of the land and title transactions that formed the 140,000 acre Refuge she just made copies of the documents she found and put them on a thumb drive.
All of the evidence that was introduced in the trial to show Mr. Bundy’s state of mind was offered so that the jury could judge Mr. Bundy on his intent not on the effects of his actions. During his closing arguments the judge wasn’t even paying attention to anything Mr. Mumford said. She was doing other things at her bench.
The next person to present their closing arguments was Ryan Bundy representing himself. He said he felt it was rather ironic that he is being charged with a conspiracy to prevent government employees from doing their jobs when in reality he was just trying to get the government employees to actually do their jobs… He wanted to read from the Constitution, but the prosecutors objected on two occasions and the judge sustained both of their objections. Ryan was warned not to try to read from the Constitution again because the court believes that only a lawyer is qualified to read the Constitution. He was speechless for a while as the jury stared at him. Then he regained his composure and pointed out that a person wearing a BLM jacket driving a government vehicle had visited the Refuge while the defendants were there and that man driving the truck was treated with respect and allowed to do his job. He wasn’t intimidated or threatened by anybody.
He told the jury that he never fired his weapon even when he was being fired upon by the FBI and he reminded them that he still carries that slug in his shoulder from being shot.
Shawna Cox’s attorney pointed out that her client wasn’t a conspirator. She didn’t have a gun. She didn’t threaten or intimidate anybody and she didn’t keep anybody from going to work or doing their job. She was a volunteer. She has always been a volunteer her whole life.. If somebody needs something. Mrs. Cox is always there to help out. That’s the kind of person she is.
Mrs. Cox’s attorney also pointed out that no one from Harney County was ever accused of being a part of the conspiracy even though they met with the defendants. They participated in the meetings. They visited the Refuge, and they served as members of the Committee of Safety. She told the jurors that was because the government wanted to paint a picture of a bunch of unwanted outsiders coming into Harney County and trying to stir up a lot of trouble. Arresting and charging actual Harney County residents didn’t fit in with their theme that the government was trying to create.
The government tried to claim that when Shawna Cox told Lavoy Finicum to “gun it” after the vehicle she was riding in was pulled over and they were being fired upon by police and FBI agents that she was “picking and choosing what laws she would obey.” Tiffany Harris speaking on behalf of Mrs. Cox pointed out that the government has been picking and choosing which laws it will obey all through the course of this trial from the very beginning when they incarcerated the defendants for eight months without bail, and without the presumption of innocence.
Mr. Olson speaking on behalf of David Fry said that it is not enough to just help one another or to share common goals and interests. That does not constitute a conspiracy. He portrayed Mr. Fry as a disturbed young man of Japanese / American ancestry who had formed an on line friendship with Lavoy Finicum whom he wanted to meet in person, but he was someone who knew absolutely nothing about adverse possession. All he really wanted to do was protest against government corruption in general and the fact that America had dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Mr. Olson echoed what Mr. Mumford said earlier when he observed that in order to prove the charge of preventing government employees from doing their job by threats or intimidation you had to actually prove that they knowingly and willingly prevented government employees from actually doing their job. He said unless you can do that you can’t find them guilty. You cannot just attribute motivations to the defendants that you cannot prove, and since no government employees ever tried to go to the Refuge during the whole time the defendants were there they couldn’t actually prove threats or intimidation of any kind.
He pointed out that the government’s own informant, Terri Linnell testified that David Fry didn’t have any guns at the Refuge echoing what Ammon Bundy had said earlier on the witness stand. He reminded the jury that if they find the defendants are not guilty on count 1 of the indictment than they cannot find them guilty on count 2 of the indictment.
Mr. Fry’s attorney remarked that while David Fry has many things to work on in his life he is not a man of threats or intimidation.
Speaking on behalf of another defendant, Jeff Banta’s attorney, Robert Salisbury asked, “How can you have an agreement to conduct an illegal act when those accused of the act have never even met or talked with each other before?” My client went to the Refuge to support the Hammonds on January 9. He left and came back on January 10 and stayed for about 30 minutes. Then he came back again on January 25. Mr. Finicum was killed the very next day. Mr. Banta only stayed at the Refuge because he was afraid of being killed himself. The fact that the FBI sent in the Hostage Negotiating Team to get the last few people off of the Refuge rather than the SWAT Team indicates that the FBI saw the remaining holdouts as a danger to themselves rather than a danger to anyone else. My client is innocent of all charges.”
The most memorable thing I remember about the closing argument from Neil Wampler’s attorney is that he said, “Mr. Wampler is being prosecuted…. because he has a big mouth.”
Finally it was Matthew Schindler’s turn to address the jury last. He represents Kenneth Medenbach who was not present. Mr. Medenbach is suffering from cancer and he couldn’t be in the courtroom, but he gave his consent for the trial to proceed without him. The first thing Mr. Schindler did was to pull the podium back about three feet from the jury box. “I am a big man, and I don’t want to threaten or intimidate anybody”, he said. That was such a great way to begin his closing arguments. He went on to say… “ If Ken Medenbach had put up a sign at the entrance to the Refuge which said, “I will kill any government employee who tries to come to work”, that would have been a threat, but simply changing the sign to read… Permanently Closed, or… Harney County Resource Center…, that is not a threat. That is a political statement.”
“In order to be convicted of theft of government property you have to do more than just use it. You have to intend to keep it. Mr. Medenbach was on his way back to the Refuge with the truck he was driving when he was arrested. How can it be theft if he was returning it?” Schindler asked
“I have represented many defendants in Federal court before and I have never even once talked about the Constitution or the Bill of Rights in order to defend them… but this case is different. A conspiracy doesn’t result in a member of Congress getting up on the floor of the House of Representatives and delivering a speech blasting the government’s abuse of power, but this so called “conspiracy” did.. This case is different. In fact… people who are accused of the crime of conspiracy always do it out of self-interest, but I can find no evidence of any self-interest that was served in anything that these defendants ever did. Yes, this case is very different, and you should find all these defendants not guilty.”
With that emotional plea to the jury, closing arguments in the Occupation Trial of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge were over, and the prosecution got an opportunity to present their final rebuttal. It seems unfair. They got to go first, and they got to go last, but then I told you that the law is not about what is fair or just or reasonable… The law is only about one thing. The law is about legal precedent and legal protocol. America’s sixth President, John Quincy Adams who was also a distinguished lawyer once quipped that, “the law is of no use outside of a courtroom”. I’m hoping that it is still of some use inside of a courtroom.. For now I am just crossing my fingers and holding my breath and praying it is.