If there was one theme at Wednesday's arraignment for Ammon Bundy and other militants arrested in connection with the occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, it was this: Despite the unprecedented complexity, federal prosecutors need to hurry up.
Prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Anna Brown they plan to bring new charges against the men and women and would need 90 days to do it. But Brown balked at that timeline, and said the government’s attorneys need to make it happen sooner.
"Each charged defendant is presumed to be innocent," Brown said, emphasizing their right to a quick trial. Bundy and other militant leaders were among the first arrested for the occupation and have been in custody since Jan. 26.
Bundy and nine other defendants appeared in federal court Wednesday in Portland for their arraignment. Attorneys represented six other defendants at the hearing, and several attorneys listed in a separate indictment attended, too.
All of the defendants at the hearing plead not guilty to the federal conspiracy filed against them.
Federal prosecutors said Wednesday they plan to merge the indictments against Bundy and 24 other defendants into a single case in March.
They've also asked the judge to rule the case as a "complex" one. That would give the government's attorneys more time to form their case, instead of the baseline of 70 days under speedy trial laws.
Bundy, his brother Ryan Bundy, Pete Santilli and Ryan Payne all face additional charges in Nevada for their roles in a 2014 armed standoff against Bureau of Land Management workers who attempted to seize cattle from rancher Cliven Bundy.
Ammon Bundy and the other defendants currently have a trial date scheduled for April 19, according to court documents, a day known as Patriot's Day, which commemorates the start of the American Revolution. That date is likely to change.
Brown will likely rule if the case should be considered complex at the next status hearing, scheduled for March 9.
Before Wednesday's hearing, Victoria Sharp joined her family and sang religious songs outside the courtroom. Sharp, 18, came from Kansas to Oregon during the occupation, and witnessed the shooting death of militant LaVoy Finicum.
The arraignment itself was a more subdued affair, with attorneys discussing procedural matters and timelines with the court.
At one point, Brown asked the defendants if they understood their rights.
Payne, who helped lead both the Oregon and Nevada conflicts, said he did not.
"It's difficult to understand the presumption of innocence," Payne said. "I spent the last month in a jail cell, in chains everywhere I go."
Defendant Jason Patrick, who seemed reluctant to stand then the judge addressed him, echoed that sentiment.
“I understand that I have no rights. You are the federal government. I have no rights at all,” Patrick said.
Brown urged federal prosecutors to deliver their discovery materials — evidence gathered before the trial — to the defense within the next 10 days.
“(The defendants) have been in custody for weeks,” Brown said. “Get them something so they can get started.”
Prosecutors estimate they’ll be providing around 300 to 500 FBI reports in the discovery.