Three defendants pleaded guilty Monday in Portland for their roles in last year’s occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Sean and Sandy Anderson, of Riggins, Idaho, along with Dylan Anderson, of Provo, Utah, all pleaded guilty to a federal trespassing charge, a misdemeanor. In exchange, the government dropped all additional charges, including felonies.
The three defendants were scheduled to be part of a second trial, which begins next week and stems from last year’s 41-day long armed standoff in Oregon’s high desert. Monday’s guilty pleas reduce the number of defendants and could cut down the amount of time necessary for the second trial, which is estimated to last between three and five weeks.
A trial last year of occupation leaders, including Ammon and Ryan Bundy, lasted around six weeks, and resulted in all seven defendants being acquitted.
Jury selection in the trial for the remaining defendants — Jason Patrick, Duane Ehmer, Darryl Thorn and Jake Ryan — is set to begin Feb. 14th.
“I plead guilty,” said defendant Dylan Anderson, 36, on Monday. Similar statements of admission were made during a separate hearing for the Andersons, who are married and were among the final four occupiers to surrender.
After pleading, U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown immediately sentenced all three defendants to the same terms: one year of probation and $1,000 restitution to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates the refuge.
Brown also prohibited them from unlawful camping on federal lands or visiting the Malheur refuge near Burns anytime during the next year.
Prosecutors said Dylan Anderson spent several weeks at the refuge in January. Defendant Darryl Thorn had been scheduled to plead guilty to the same terms Monday, but his hearing was cancelled.
His attorney did not immediately return a request for comment.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel said the government had evidence that Dylan Anderson was at the refuge “at a time it was not open to the public.”
Under the terms negotiated with the government and agreed to by Brown, Sean and Sandy Anderson will be allowed to hunt using a bow and keep knives related to their work. Sean Anderson will also receive back a .45 caliber handgun that was a family heirloom, if no violations occur during his year of probation.
“Mr. (Sean) Anderson had been told to leave the refuge” Gabriel said of the evidence against him, “yet he knowingly and willfully remained.”
Gabriel said Sean and Sandy Anderson left and returned to the refuge together several times during the occupation.
“She was one of the lowest level defendants at the refuge,” Gabriel said, noting that Sandy Anderson had no previous criminal history.
When Brown told the Andersons they would not be allowed to return to the refuge for one year, Sean Anderson replied, “the Malheur Refuge is not on my bucket list.”
Before delivering her sentence, Brown said recounted the calls between FBI crisis negotiators and the final four occupiers at the refuge that were played during the first trial.
“I have to believe that was an extremely difficult time for each of you,” she said.
Brown said there’s long been an ongoing debate about the rights to protest the government.
“Where it crosses the line into criminal conduct has been widely debated and will continue to be debated after today,” she told the Andersons. “If you get through this year, it’s done, it’s something for history.”
After sentencing, the Andersons made a brief statement in the lobby of the 14th floor of the U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Portland.
Reading from prepared remarks, Sandy Anderson said the country is moving in the right direction and that God had directed them to a “new battlefield.”
Anderson also insinuated Brown's ruling last month to have a judge decide the misdemeanor charges in the second trial was part of the reason the couple decided to plead guilty.
“The judge has refused to allow us our constitutional right to an impartial jury guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment,” Anderson said. “Instead, the judge has ruled that she will decide our fate. She works for the same government that is prosecuting us. So, how do you think she is going to decide?”
Prosecutors have charged the remaining defendants with conspiring to prevent federal employees who work at the refuge from doing their jobs, a felony.
Ryan, Thorn and Patrick have also been charged with carrying a firearm in a federal facility, also a felony. The remaining defendants have also been charged with misdemeanor charges, like trespassing.