The proceedings for the trial involving an armed group who occupied the federal Malheur Wildlife Refuge, led by Ammon Bundy, in Oregon is currently underway.

Bundy and six others were charged with conspiracy following their occupation of a national wildlife refuge. The legal representatives for both defense and prosecution are set to spend the next three days choosing 12 jurors and eight alternates among more than 250 individuals from the state. U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown has made opening statements on Tuesday. The first 30 potential jurors were interviewed on Wednesday. On Thursday and Friday, 60 people will undergo the same formalities each day.

Malheur wildlife refuge
A closed road to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 29. Image credit: Rob Kerr/AFP/Getty Images.

Militia members take over Malheur Wildlife Reserve

In January this year, a group of armed men occupied the headquarters of the Malheur wildlife refuge in Oregon after protesting in support for two fellow ranchers convicted of torching federal land. The focus of the men’s demonstration and occupation was federal restrictions placed on land.

Ammon, the leader of the occupation, issued a statement saying: “All comfort, all wealth … comes from the Earth, and we cannot have the government restricting the use of that to the point where it puts us in poverty”.

Ammon Bundy, Oregon
Ammon Bundy at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Image credit: Anna King/Northwest News Network.

The two ranchers backed by Ammon and his group, Dwight Hammond Jr., and his son Steven Hammond, were initially convicted of arson and sentenced to one-year incarceration in 2012.

However, federal prosecutors appealed the judgment saying that burning federal property is a mandatory sentence of five years. Thus, on Monday 4 January 2016, the father and son started their half-decade incarceration.

Pete Santilli in the clear

Prosecutors have dropped charges against Internet radio host, Pete Santilli, who was allegedly involved in the burning of federal property in January 2016. Less than a day before jurors for Santilli’s trial were set to be selected, the prosecution filed a motion to drop the charges placed on Santilli in connection with the incident.

Santilli was among the men convicted of setting the Malheur Wildlife Refuge alight and would broadcast from the scene. However, his legal counsel argued that his involvement was part of his journalism work, which was a right protected by the First Amendment.

Santilli is still expected to stay in prison until he is presented with the federal charges filed in Nevada for his participation in the Bunkerville Standoff. The prosecution assured that the dismissal of his Oregon charges would not deter those which he was set to face in Nevada.

Others who were involved in January’s incident will proceed with their trial facing the following charges: conspiracy for preventing federal employees from fulfilling their duties through intimidation and force and carrying firearms in a federal facility during the 41-day occupation.

The trial for the men commenced this week, and the closing arguments are expected to be delivered in November.

Source: NPR