An Occupation In Eastern Oregon

Prosecutors Tip Hand In Case Against FBI Agent Charged With Lying, Obstruction

By Conrad Wilson (OPB)
Portland, Ore. March 6, 2018 8:07 p.m.

Federal prosecutors described new details Tuesday in federal court about their case against an FBI agent they've charged with lying about firing his weapon during the 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Prosecutors say on Jan. 26, 2016, FBI special agent W. Joseph Astarita fired his gun at Malheur refuge occupation spokesman Robert "LaVoy" Finicum and later lied about it. The shots missed Finicum, who was killed during the incident by Oregon State Police.


Investigators determined the entire shooting was justified. But prosecutors have charged Astarita — a member of the FBI's elite Hostage Rescue Team — with obstruction of justice and lying to investigators. He's pleaded not guilty.

Related: FBI Agent Accused Of Lying During Malheur Occupation Seeks Dismissal Of Charges

The purpose of Tuesday's hearing was for the government's expert witnesses to answer questions posted by expert witnesses for the defense. The government was reluctant to allow its experts to respond.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Maloney said by asking the questions, the defense was only attempting to undermine the prosecution's case. Astarita's attorney denied that suggestion, saying the questions were genuine.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jones ordered experts from both sides to talk and resolve their questions. He also ordered the government's experts to give him a presentation so he could understand their role in the case.


"I just want to know what you're going to be talking about," Jones said.

The case targets expert witnesses and the government's ability to recreate the shooting.

In court, prosecutors described the roles of each and outlined their case.

Related: Docs Sealed In Case Against Agent Charged In Finicum Shooting

Maloney said Toby Terpstra, the government's forensic animator, recreated the scene by pulling together video synced by Frank Piazza, the government's audio/video expert, and ballistic trajectory from Michael Haag, the government's firearms expert.

Maloney said the experts have concluded the second shot could've only come from Astarita.

"The government's experts conclude that the defendant is the only person in the cone of probably where that shot could've been taken," Maloney said.

In previous court filings, Astarita's attorneys have questioned the government's ability to recreate the scene with the precision necessary to be admissible at trial given the recreation was done more than a year after the shooting occurred.

Astarita's defense attorney said he doesn't plan to have their experts recreate the scene. Rather, defense attorney Tyler Francis said their experts "are working to critique and analyze if necessary" the government's experts.

The hearing with the government's experts will be held in open court in Portland in early April.