Friday, November 11, 2016

Acquittal of seven Oregon occupiers poses questions on fate of seven more

The U.S. attorney’s office in Oregon has taken a beating since a jury acquitted seven defendants of conspiracy and weapons charges in an armed takeover at a federal wildlife refuge — and government prosecutors still have a long road ahead. Seven more defendants are set for trial in February in a second high-stakes airing of the same evidence and the same witnesses. Under intense scrutiny after the acquittals, the government now must decide whether it wants to press forward with an almost identical case, make changes or give up entirely. The U.S. attorney’s office in Portland declined to comment on the acquittals and the upcoming trial. Defense attorneys, however, questioned whether government prosecutors would be wise to proceed, given that the first jury didn’t buy the government’s conspiracy case. The next round of defendants is also emboldened by the acquittals and considers another trial a forum to bring their brand of political protest to a national audience for a second time. “Watching the trial, it was clear: This is what they wanted to do and, to some extent, has the government played into their hands? Are they playing into their hands in trial No. 2?” said Andrew Kohlmetz, an attorney for Jason Patrick, who has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and weapons charges. “They’re giving them a soap box to stand on, and I think they need to make some tough policy decisions,” he said of government attorneys. Now, prosecutors face a range of unsavory options for the second trial, legal experts said. They can proceed and risk another acquittal, dismiss the case entirely, add lesser charges such as trespassing to give the next jury more options or offer plea deals to defendants. “If they came to me with jaywalking and time served, I’d tell them to go to hell. I want to fight,” said Patrick, a 52-year-old roofer who was jailed for six months before a judge released him to await trial. “If you fight the government outside of court, they will kill you. But if they invite you into court to fight — and your fight is right —then fight.” Complicating matters, the first group of defendants included brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, the self-professed leaders of the standoff. The February trial includes defendants largely seen as lesser players in the occupation, but the charges are just as serious. A judge has set a Nov. 16 date for attorneys from both sides to file court papers indicating how they would like to proceed...more

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