Defense witnesses in the second trial stemming from last year’s occupation of an Oregon wildlife refuge provided new details and refuted previous testimony about a Dec. 29, 2015, meeting in Burns, Oregon.
That meeting, which occupier Blaine Cooper and occupation leader Ammon Bundy spoke about in their testimony, could be key in the case. Cooper testified occupiers decided at that meeting they would take over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Four defendants currently on trial — Jason Patrick, Jake Ryan, Darryl Thorn and Duane Ehmer — are accused of conspiring to impede federal workers from doing their jobs at the refuge through force, threats and intimidation.
The government has pointed to the meeting as evidence there was a conspiracy. That evidence was not part of last fall's trial, which ended in the acquittals of occupation leaders — including Bundy.
No Specific Plan
Bruce Joseph “BJ” Soper, a founding member of the Pacific Patriots Network, testified Monday he was also at the meeting with Bundy, Cooper, Patrick, Ryan Payne and others.
Soper testified at the federal courthouse in Portland that Bundy believed a rally in Burns scheduled for Jan. 2, 2017, was a good start, but “he felt a harder stand needed to be taken.”
Bundy and Harney County locals helped draw people to a rally for Dwight and Steven Hammond, two Harney County ranchers convicted of arson and currently serving federal prison sentences.
Soper said Bundy briefly mentioned occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, too, but added there wasn't a specific plan. Soper said it was in the context of a number of ideas Bundy offered for how people could better support the Hammonds.
“There was a lot that was talked about that day,” Soper testified.
While he said there was no exact date or time, Bundy's own testimony late last month confirmed he had discussed the takeover.
“I felt we could go into the refuge and occupy the refuge,” Bundy said in U.S. District Court in Portland on Feb. 28.
During his trial in Portland last fall, Bundy said he didn’t have a plan.
Like the others who have spoken about the meeting, Soper testified that nothing was decided Dec. 29 and that many of the meeting-goers, including himself, didn’t like the idea of occupying the wildlife refuge.
Soper also said during the Dec. 29 meeting there was no discussion of keeping federal employees from going to work.
“There was not discussion of employees,” Soper said.
'Prone To Lying'
Blaine Cooper’s father and stepmother also testified Monday.
Cooper said he suffered abuse from his father during his childhood and, as a result, lives with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lindalee Hicks, Cooper’s stepmother of nearly 30 years, said he was “never” abused.
Patrick’s standby attorney, Andrew Kohlmetz, asked Hicks if her stepson has a reputation of being untruthful. She said he did.
That testimony was seconded by Stanley Blaine Hicks, Cooper’s father, who also refuted the claim that he abused his son.
Kohlmetz asked whether Cooper was a truthful person.
“The opinion is he’s prone to lying when it serves his purposes,” Hicks said.
During cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoff Barrow confirmed Hicks hasn’t had contact with his son since mid-2015.