Thursday, September 22, 2016

Mark McConnell, man driving Jeep before Ammon Bundy's arrest, was informant, testimony reveals

Mark McConnell, the driver of the Jeep that Ammon Bundy was riding in before his arrest on Jan. 26, was a government informant who had tipped off law enforcement about the occupation leaders' trip out of the wildlife refuge, according to court testimony Wednesday. Oregon State Police Trooper Jeremiah Beckert said that McConnell provided information about the occupiers' vehicles, their location and a basic threat assessment, leading to the high-risk traffic stop on U.S. 395 about 4 p.m. that same day. Beckert was in an unmarked police pickup truck, waiting in a Sno-Park off the rural road, when he saw a white Dodge pickup belonging to occupation spokesman Robert "LaVoy" Finicum and a Jeep go by, northbound. He activated the lights on his truck and hit the siren a few times as he moved in behind the Jeep. Beckert, testifying in the federal trial against Ammon Bundy and six co-defendants stemming from the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, described the traffic stop, and the arrest of Ammon Bundy and Brian Cavalier from the Jeep. He also spoke of the subsequent arrests of Ryan Bundy and Shawna Cox after Finicum's truck sped off to avoid a police roadblock and crashed into a snowbank down the road. Before the trooper took the witness stand, U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown repeatedly warned the defendants and their lawyers that the circumstances surrounding Finicum's death were "off limits." Brown went as far as telling Ryan Bundy that he was forbidden from raising the subject before jurors, and that she would have him removed from the courtroom if he didn't follow her order. Yet that didn't stop some on the defense side from attempting to raise the matter. The trooper testified that the occupants of the Jeep — Ammon Bundy, McConnell and Brian Cavalier — complied with orders to step out of the vehicle and walk backward to waiting officers. The only one armed in the Jeep was McConnell, who had a handgun. After Cavalier was taken into custody, Beckert drove north to the police roadblock. He saw Finicum's truck in a snowbank. "I saw a white male with a cowboy hat laying on his back,'' Beckert testified, estimating that the man's body was about 30 yards south of the Dodge truck. Beckert also testified that he saw police firing plastic canisters from 40mm launchers into Finicum's truck near the road block, releasing a powdery irritant similar to pepper spray or tear gas. After some delay, he watched as Ryan Bundy, Victoria Sharp and Shawna Cox, in that order, emerged one by one from the back of Finicum's truck. He later learned that Ryan Bundy had been taken to a hospital for treatment, possibly for shrapnel, Beckert testified. During cross-examination, Ammon Bundy's lawyer Marcus Mumford established again that Beckert learned that Finicum had been killed by law enforcement. Mumford followed up, "In fact, he was shot three times in the back...'' The prosecutor objected, and the judge immediately asked the jurors to disregard Mumford's question. Mumford later brought up Ryan Bundy's wound. "That was based on another shot from law enforcement into the truck..,'' Mumford began. Again, Mumford was cut off, and the judge told the jury to disregard his remarks. "Jurors, again, we are not litigating here what happened to Mr. Finicum or the extent of the shooting,'' Brown said. When it was Ryan Bundy's chance to cross-examine the trooper, he was more direct. "So the round that was shot into my shoulder, was it lethal or not lethal?'' he asked. The prosecutor objected, and the trooper didn't answer the question. Out of earshot from the jury, Ryan Bundy had urged the court to allow jurors to learn that he was shot "by federal snipers who picked up their brass and lied repeatedly" about their shooting. He argued that the FBI's actions and alleged coverup of the shooting goes to the bias of the federal agency that was allowed to investigate the refuge occupation. Ryan Bundy accused the government of "trying to control the narrative" by "barring discussion of FBI deception and what went on there." Gabriel countered that the information was irrelevant since the prosecution team is not calling any of the FBI Hostage Rescue Team agents who are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice's Inspector General's office. "Bias goes to an individual,'' Gabriel said. "It does not go to an entire institution in this case.'' After taking some time in court to review the evidence and her prior court ruling, Brown denied Ryan Bundy's request. "Whatever happened with Mr. Finicum — whether it was justified or not," did not bear on defendants' mental state and their decision to do what they did, which occurred before Finicum was killed, the judge said from her bench. "The righteousness of it or not remains irrelevant in this case," Brown said. She further noted that the actions remain under investigation. The judge added that the "great weight of evidence" the government has presented in this case so far are from the defendants' own statements. "It's Ammon Bundy himself in front of a microphone. It's Ryan Bundy himself in front of a microphone," Brown said...more

HT: Marvin Frisbey

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