Malheur refuge occupation leader Ammon Bundy accused U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown on Monday of blocking his defense team’s case. And Bundy said that’s the reason for his choice to take the stand in the trial of seven occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Bundy appears likely to testify Tuesday. His attorney, Marcus Mumford, outlined issues and evidence he would like Bundy to be allowed to discuss on the stand, according to a Monday court filing. In order for Bundy to testify, the defense and prosecution must agree on what evidence can and cannot be produced during his testimony.
Mumford argues disputed evidence — such as photos from Bunkerville, Nevada, and video statements from occupier Robert “LaVoy” Finicum — are critical to the jury’s understanding of Bundy’s state of mind during the occupati0n.
“Another relevant question is generally why Mr. Bundy behaved as he did,” Mumford wrote, “given that a core defense in this case is based upon his state of mind and the state of mind of those he was influencing.”
In court Monday, Brown explained to Bundy his rights, reminding him anything said about the 2014 Bunkerville standoff can be used against him in Nevada, where he faces charges for that event.
“What we did in Bunkerville, I’m very pleased at and very excited to discuss that further in this court and in any other court,” Bundy replied.
The court has thus far heard only a prepared statement about what Bunkerville is and what happened there.
“I’m aware of the risks and my decision would not change,” Bundy said.
When Brown asked Bundy if he felt pressured to testify, he said the judge herself pressured him by her rulings in the courtroom. Bundy said he is “certain the jury is confused.”
“In order to clear up this confusion … I have no choice but to take the stand,” he said.
Bundy's testimony would make him the second defendant to take the stand since the trial began, after Jeff Banta testified last week.
Ward Returns To The Stand
Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward was back on the stand Monday. The defense called him as a witness, weeks after he testified for the prosecution about the months leading up to the occupation.
Monday, Ward testified about several emails he received from defendant Ammon Bundy in November and December of last year, weeks before the occupation began.
On Dec. 18, Bundy sent Ward an email that read: “We as a people deserve to live in peace and tranquility, but will defend freedoms if necessary in order to do so.” The email goes on to say, “We call upon you Sheriff Ward and all civil servants to honorably and effectively uphold the oaths and duties of your sworn offices, to turn your weapons in defense of the Hammonds’ rights and truly be representative of the people, by the people, for the people.”
On the stand Monday, Ward said, “I believe [Ammon Bundy] is trying to tell me to turn my weapons against the federal government to protest the Hammonds going back to prison.”
Dwight and Steven Hammond are father and son ranchers from Harney County who were resentenced to federal prison last year for setting fire to public lands.
‘No Organization’ To Refuge Takeover
A Las Vegas man named Brand Nu Thornton testified Monday that he went to Burns, Oregon, for the protest in support of the Hammonds. Thornton broke from the protest with the group that included Ryan Payne to head to the refuge.
“There was no organization to it,” he said on the stand.
Thornton said he stayed at the refuge until the morning of Jan. 25. He worked primarily with Ammon Bundy, scheduling his appointments and interviews with the bevy of reporters who had come to Burns. He described the refuge as peaceful and “non-threatening.”
“That was a common theme there,” he said.
Thornton, who was also present in Bunkerville, was not charged in the occupation and said he did not fear being arrested.
Harney County Residents Testify
Several Harney County residents have testified thus far, one being Pat Horlacher, who took the stand Monday. Horlacher is a silversmith who has lived in Burns for seven years.
Initially, he was concerned about rumors of a violent militia taking over the Malheur refuge. He testified to wanting to move his family away from the bird sanctuary.
But those fears were quieted, he said, when he visited the refuge. Horlacher testified he went to the refuge about six times. On his first visit, he said he met LaVoy Finicum and spoke with Ammon and Ryan Bundy for two or three hours.
“I just wanted to experience it firsthand,” Horlacher testified. “I didn’t want to get my info filtered through the media.”
Horlacher said he also tried to meet with Sheriff Ward, but was ultimately unable to reach him.
Subscribe To 'This Land Is Our Land'
Subscribe to "This Land Is Our Land" on NPR One, Apple Podcasts or wherever you find your podcasts. Find comprehensive trial coverage at OPB.org/ThisLand.
Share your thoughts on the trial with us on Facebook and Twitter, or by emailing us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.