Prosecutors have filed new charges against the occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The superseding indictment includes 25 named defendants and one who has not yet been named.
U.S. District Judge Anna Brown unsealed new indictment in court Wednesday, where the defendants were arraigned on six charges.
The large Portland courtroom was filled with extra tables and chairs to accommodate all the defendants, most of whom are in pretrial custody. Defense lawyers and the government's three lead prosecutors on the case — Ethan Knight, Geoff Barrow and Craig Gabriel — also filled the room.
Brown carefully navigated the hearing, managing the multitude of defendants as she worked to establish a trial date and rules for discovery.
An inherent tension has developed between prosecutors and defense attorneys over when any trial might occur.
Prosecutors have asked for more time, while defense attorneys say they want to go to trial as soon as possible, in part, because they say the government is continuing to collect evidence against their clients.
Six of the defendants named in the Oregon indictment also face charges in Nevada, related to the 2014 armed standoff between ranchers and the Bureau of Land Management. Defense attorneys were concerned those charges could further slowdown any trial date.
Brown ruled Wednesday the case is complex, something that prosecutors had sought. The ruling gives the judge and prosecutors some flexibility around speedy trial laws.
“I think any person who looks at this room would have to rule this case is complex,” Brown said from the bench.
In the new indictment, all of the defendants were once again charged with conspiracy to impede officers of the United States. But the charges were expanded to include employees of both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates the refuge, and the BLM.
The indictment states that on Nov. 5, 2015, Ammon Bundy and Ryan Payne met with Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward and warned him of "'extreme civil unrest' if certain demands were not met."Starting Dec. 15, 2015, the indictment states, "conspirators brandished and carried firearms throughout Harney County, Oregon, in order to effectuate the goals of the conspiracy." It also details the armed takeover of the federal wildlife refuge south of Burns.
New charges in the case include possession of firearms and dangerous weapons in federal facilities, use and carry of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, theft of government property and damaging an archaeological site.
Brown said Wednesday she would decide on a trial date at a hearing in early April. She also said it would need to happen before October, because of another large trial involving many of the same defense attorneys scheduled for that month.
Brown said the trial against the refuge occupiers could take more than a month.
“All of us, and I mean everyone, will have to adjust our personal lives,” she said.
The defendants face between five years and life in prison if convicted of the charges, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
Brown estimated selecting a jury pool would take a week, in part because it would be challenging to find jurors able to commit to such a lengthy trial. Given the widespread media coverage, it could also be challenging to find people who haven’t developed a strong opinion about Ammon Bundy and the other 25 defendants.
Brown said she’d entertain the idea of breaking up the cases into groups of defendants to start trials as soon as possible.