Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Legal teams begin putting together jury for Malheur trial

Some people claimed to believe in “guilty until proven innocent” with an unshakeable bias toward law enforcement. Others wrote of their disdain for the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Still, others said they had a two-week vacation scheduled at the end of September, didn’t speak English well enough to serve on a jury (despite having served on one in 2011) or said that their children are leaving for college. Those are just some of the challenges defense attorneys and prosecutors grappled with Monday as they took the first step toward piecing together a jury for those accused of conspiring to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January. The hearing was a view into the public’s perception of the occupation and the upcoming trial. It also underscored the challenge of seating a jury willing to keep an open mind after one of the most publicized events of early 2016. Earlier this summer, federal court officials sent 1,500 summonses out to prospective jurors throughout Oregon. The courts followed up with a detailed questionnaire. It’s those responses that were the subject of Monday’s pretrial conference, which U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown read aloud in court. “I only feel contempt for such individuals who arm themselves,” wrote one potential juror. “U.S. Fish and Wildlife has one political agenda and that is to inflict as much hardship on ranchers,” stated another potential juror. “They are no longer land managers, but political pawns,” the same person wrote of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The potential jurors who remain in the pool will be selected at random, 30 at a time, to appear for jury selection starting Sept. 7. Brown dismissed dozens of jurors over challenges raised by defense attorneys and the government. Others, Brown said, would need to provide more information about their views before deciding whether or not to excuse them from service. The identities of the jurors are kept secret, but defense attorneys, the court and prosecutors know the people who submitted questionnaires. “I do not believe any individual has any right to seize public lands,” one potential juror wrote in the questionnaire. “Although it is my civic duty, I do not like to sit in judge of another,” stated another. Defense attorneys for the group of eight going to trial in September worked as a team. At times, Assistant U.S. attorneys Ethan Knight and Geoff Barrow and defense attorneys were in agreement over the dismissal of a potential juror...more

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