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Legal Experts Discuss How Oregon Standoff Jury Reached Verdict


Defense attorney Morgan Philpot answers questions following the delivery of not guilty verdicts.

Defense attorney Morgan Philpot answers questions following the delivery of not guilty verdicts.

Bradley W. Parks/OPB

As the surprise of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge acquittals wore off Friday, the legal postmortems began. What happened to derail the prosecution’s case against defendants who took over a federal facility in full view of the world?

There’s been a lot of talk about whether this was jury nullification — essentially jurors ignoring the facts of a case and making some sort of larger political statement instead. This was an underlying theme to the defense argument, particularly on behalf of occupation leader Ammon Bundy.

But the man known as Juror No. 4 wrote Maxine Bernstein at the Oregonian and said, basically, the jury thought the prosecution did not prove its case. He wrote the verdict was “not any form of affirmation of the defense’s various beliefs, actions or aspirations.”

So why a conspiracy charge? Back in the spring, Ammon Bundy offered to plead guilty to criminal trespass — if everyone else involved went free. Prosecutors obviously said no.

Criminal trespass is a misdemeanor. They chose to charge Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy and most of the other occupiers with a felony, with a charge that would have carried a prison sentence and would have impacted their ability to own guns in the future.

Mike Arnold, Ammon Bundy’s lawyer in those early days, said he thinks the government was trying to send a message and maybe prevent future standoffs like the one at Malheur and the one at Bunkerville, Nevada, led by Cliven Bundy two years ago.

“If you look at it from the goals of the prosecution, their goal is to prevent any sort of activity like this in the future from the actual defendants themselves and other like-minded folks,” Arnold said. “The other way you accomplish both goals is to get them convicted of major felonies with serious prison time, at least for the leaders.”

OPB’s Anna Griffin and Kate Davidson further discussed the legal side of the case. To listen, click play in the audio player above.

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