Federal prosecutors are close to resting their case-in-chief in the second trial of defendants linked to last year’s occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon.
On Monday, the government will call a handful of FBI agents to talk about evidence, a federal employee who worked at the refuge in January 2016, and occupier Blaine Cooper, who pleaded guilty in the case last year.
U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown said the defense should be ready to begin its case Tuesday. The defense plans to call occupation leader Ammon Bundy as their first witness.
In October, Bundy, his brother Ryan Bundy and five others were acquitted by a jury on the same main felony charges the government has brought against the four on trial now.
The government has charged defendants Duane Ehmer, Darryl Thorn, Jason Patrick and Jake Ryan with conspiracy to impede federal employees from doing their jobs through force, threats and intimidation. Three defendants also face felony weapons charges. Ehmer and Ryan have been charged with depredation of property.
Unlike the first trial, these four defendants also face misdemeanor charges, like trespassing. Those charges will decided by Brown, not the jury.
While Brown has barred the defense from talking about the acquittals in the first trial while in the jury's presence, it’s possible Bundy could bring it up during his testimony.
In preparation for Cooper’s testimony, the court passed out a heavily redacted copy of his pre-sentence report to the defense and federal prosecutors.
The trial is moving ahead of schedule, and the government ran out of witnesses who were ready to testify Friday at the federal courthouse in Portland.
At one point Friday morning, a seemingly annoyed Brown asked federal prosecutors why they didn’t have a full day of witnesses lined up to testify.
“Cross-examination has been much less than anticipated,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoff Barrow said.
Much of Friday was spent showing jurors hundreds of rounds of unspent ammunition and dozens firearms FBI agents testified they recovered from the refuge. At times the testimony was tedious. Jurors appeared attentive at times, but were seen yawning or turning their attention away from the government’s witnesses at others.
Many of the guns and ammo were recovered from the west encampment area of the refuge, where the final four occupiers spent nearly two weeks before surrendering. During cross-examination, the defense did not point out that none of those on trial now were among those final four occupiers.
At one point, FBI Special Agent Cheryl Hinderer, with the Seattle Field Office, said her evidence recovery team found shell casings in a pickup truck used by one of the occupation leaders, Ryan Payne, who’s pleaded guilty.
Hinderer testified dozens of casings were found strewn around the truck’s cab and bed, including some in a container with candy.
“Did you find any ammunition that would be found in a black power pistol?” asked Michele Kohler, Ehmer’s attorney.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Hinderer replied.
Ehmer was arrested with a 19th century pistol in a horse trailer he was pulling behind his truck.
Friday’s noon hour was spent on a motion to quash the subpoena of a former OPB reporter. After taking oral arguments, Brown granted the motion. That means reporter John Sepulvado won’t have to testify as a government witness.
Prosecutors are still hoping to play jurors a portion from a Jan. 9 interview Sepulvado did with Ryan Bundy as part of their case. Brown hasn’t said when she will rule on the issue.