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Bundy wants release as occupation lawyers invoke civil rights heroes

Attorneys invoked the Boston Tea Party and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the initial court appearances for occupiers of the Malheur National Wildife Refuge.

This week, the arguments look to get more intense with additional hearings and appeals of last week’s decisions.

Last week, federal magistrate Judge Stacie Beckerman decided that many of the 10 defendants who’ve appeared in a Portland federal court so far, including occupation leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy, should stay in jail.

Defense lawyers, including those for Ammon Bundy, plan to appeal some of those rulings to federal Judge Michael Mosman on Tuesday. In a filing on Sunday, Eugene lawyers Lisa Casey and Michael Arnold argued that prosecutors had failed to meet their burden to prove that release of the leader would be a threat to public safety.

On Wednesday, prosecutors are expected to lay out further details of the case. Hearings for two additional defendants will be held on Thursday to see if they will stay in jail.

Beckerman’s decisions last week came despite sometimes impassioned arguments by defense lawyers, some of whom likened their clients’ actions to democratic protests such as the Boston Tea Party and civil rights actions. One quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic letter from a Birmingham jail in 1963, to argue that the occupation of the refuge did not mean his client lacked respect for the federal government.

“I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law,” quoted Andrew Kohlmetz, lawyer for Jason Patrick.

Similarly, Lisa Hay, a federal public defender representing Ryan Payne, said the occupation followed in a long history of civil rights actions that led to social change. “There are times when radical notions gain acceptance by being heard in a courtroom.”

Federal prosecutors initially recommended all 11 people who took part in the nearly four-week occupation of a Harney County wildlife refuge should stay in jail.

They include 40-year-old Ammon Bundy, the de facto leader of the occupation, and his brother, 43-year-old Ryan Bundy, along with a handful of others who were arrested during a Jan. 26 stop on Highway 395 about 20 miles north of Burns or taken into custody a day later at checkpoints near the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

They are part of a movement that rejects most federal authority as unconstitutional. Nearly everyone involved in the occupation was armed with semi-automatic rifles or handguns, which they said were for their protection in case law enforcement attacked the compound.

They are being held at the Multnomah County Detention Center in Portland.

At press time, several holdouts were reportedly still occupying part of the wildlife refuge property.

The Bundy brothers, Brian Cavalier, Shawna Cox, Ryan Payne and Joseph O’Shaughn-essy were arrested Tuesday, Jan. 26, by FBI agents and Oregon State Police troopers as they traveled north to a community meeting in John Day. During that arrest, 54-year-old Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was shot to death as he jumped out of his truck and reached into his coat, where FBI agents said he was carrying a loaded 9mm semi-automatic handgun.

Pater Santilli, an Internet radio talk show host who broadcast nearly every day from the occupation in Burns, was taken into custody Tuesday evening, Jan. 26, while trying to persuade law enforcement officers to allow a convoy to take women and children out of the wildlife refuge compound 30 miles south of Burns.

Patrick of Bonaire, Ga., Duane Leo Ehmer of Irrigon and Dylan Wade Anderson of Provo, Utah, were arrested Wednesday, Jan. 27. Each faces a charge of conspiracy to impede federal officers, a felony.

Jon Ritzheimer, one of the occupation’s leaders, had returned to his home in suburban Phoenix, Ariz., and turned himself in to police. He is facing the same conspiracy charges in Arizona’s federal court.

Federal prosecutors argued Friday the defendants were determined to reject federal authority.

“In this case, all defendants deliberately and publicly disregarded repeated orders, requests, and pressure to obey the law over a sustained period of time,” wrote prosecutors Billy J. Williams, Ethan D. Knight and Geoffrey A. Barrow, in court documents filed Friday. “They did so in a manner that endangered, and continues to endanger, the residents of Harney County, Oregon.”

In court, his attorney, Casey, stressed that violence was not Ammon Bundy’s intent. “It is not a violent overthrow of the government that he is advocating.”

Digital Media Editor Kevin Harden contributed to reporting for this