Despite having already pleaded guilty to conspiring to prevent federal employees from doing their jobs, Ryan Payne, one of the leaders of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation, wants to once again be considered not guilty.
In a Wednesday court filing, Payne’s attorneys wrote their client wants to “withdraw his plea of guilty and to proceed to a trial by jury.”
Payne is being represented by Lisa Hay, the federal public defender for the district of Oregon, along with Rich Frederico, the district’s assistant federal public defender.
In the latest court filing, Frederico writes that new evidence presented by government prosecutors during the ongoing trial of Ammon Bundy and six other occupiers, along with a failure to reach a plea deal for separate charges in Nevada, are among the factors leading to Payne’s request.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oregon opposes Payne’s request, according Frederico’s filing. U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown has not responded.
Payne Pleaded Guilty In July
“I plead guilty, your honor,” Payne told Judge Brown on July 19.
Payne told Brown during the hearing that he joined the military and swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution.
“In pursuing that effort, I understand I — I have come to understand that folks who were — who work for the Government, that that Constitution ordained, perceived my actions as threatening or intimidating,” the filing quoted Payne. “And, thereby, I — I understand myself to have been guilty of the charge that I’m charged with.”
At the time, Brown told Payne the decision he was making was permanent.
During the July hearing, Payne’s attorneys told Brown their client was also working on a plea deal in Nevada.
Payne has been charged there with numerous counts including conspiracy, assault on a federal officer and use and carry of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. The charges stem from a 2014 armed standoff between the Bureau of Land Management and ranchers in Bunkerville, Nevada.
Several of the defendants in Oregon – including brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy – have also been charged in the case, set to go to trial Feb. 6.
Payne had also traveled to Harney County and met with Ammon Bundy in December before the Oregon occupation began.
“The foundation of the Oregon plea agreement was that an agreement would also be reached in Nevada,” Frederico wrote in Wednesday’s court filing.
But, he said, a plea deal in Nevada has still not been reached.
“On the date Mr. Payne signed the Oregon plea agreement, the Nevada offer was only in a draft format,” Frederico wrote. “Notably, the entire ‘statement of facts’ section of the Nevada plea offer had been left blank. When Mr. Payne arrived in Nevada, he was only then provided a ‘statement of facts’ that Nevada prosecutors demanded he agree to in order to secure the deal.”
Frederico also said prosecutors in Oregon only gave Payne one day to consider the plea deal.
“On the date he entered a guilty plea in Oregon, had Mr. Payne known all the terms of the deal in Nevada, he would not have signed the deal in Oregon,” Frederico said in his filing.
Government Informants At The Refuge
Frederico said after Payne’s plea, federal prosecutors in Oregon provided additional discovery in their case and acknowledged it used confidential informants at the refuge.
“Some of this new information was particularly germane to Mr. Payne,” Frederico said, citing a Jan. 7 video that shows Payne “discussing the goals of the protest, discussions he and others previously had with Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward, and Mr. Payne’s clear statements to alleged co-conspirators that they do not want violence.”
Frederico also said at the time of Payne’s July plea hearing, the government had not revealed it used confidential informants at the refuge.
“It has now been revealed that some of the inculpatory conduct and statements attributed to Mr. Payne apparently were made to confidential informants, a fact previously unknown to Mr. Payne,” Frederico wrote. “Had Mr. Payne and his counsel been aware of this basis for impeachment of the government’s potential witnesses, they could have evaluated the strength of the government’s case differently.”
Frederico said, despite the risk, Payne felt he had to take the plea deal in Oregon without having one secured in Nevada. In July, Payne said his continued detention “lends a realism or, rather, an aspect of what the future would hold quite possibly for the rest of my life if I did not take such a plea.”