Ryan and Ammon Bundy – the central characters in the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in rural Oregon in January – were found "not guilty" Thursday in federal court of conspiracy to impede officers and other charges, the Associated Press reported.
The weeks-long standoff and subsequent trial have been a rallying point for anti-government extremists. Federal officials were hoping to make an example out of the Bundy brothers and five others who were prominent figures in the anti-government movement. The prosecution had extensive media reports as well as collected extensive evidence into the 41-day standoff.
According to the Seattle Times, after Ammon Bundy was acquitted, his lawyer Marcus Mumford argued that Bundy should be allowed to walk free immediately while U.S. District Judge Anna Brown insisted he stay in custody as Bundy still faced more charges in an upcoming trial related to the 2014 standoff on federal lands in Nevada.
The Seattle Times reported that the interaction grew so heated that Mumford was shouting in the court room before he was ultimately "tackled" by the U.S. marshals and eventually ordered into custody.
The jury deliberations also attracted attention Wednesday when a note from the jury alleged another juror was biased and had worked for the Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency that managed Malheur. The judge had the juror replaced.
Twenty six people were charged in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge standoff. Nearly a dozen, however, took plea deals. Ammon and Ryan Bundy were part of the first trial. Another trial for seven more individuals is scheduled for February, according to BuzzFeed.
The acquittal is a major loss for federal officials who are also preparing another case against Ammon and Ryan Bundy as well as their father Cliven Bundy for their involvement in the 2014 Nevada ranch standoff.
Neal Wampler, a defendant in the trial, told the Seattle Times that the acquittals was a “stunning victory for rural America.”
Prosecutors had tried, according to news reports, to provide evidence that the Bundy brothers had conspired and planned the refuge takeover in advance while the defense alleged it was spontaneous and nothing more than civil disobedience.
As the Seattle Times pointed out, U.S. Fish and Wildlife have said that the damage to Malheur after the standoff exceeded $4 million.