Oregon wildlife refuge occupation trial begins

Wildlife refuge occupation trial begins.

OREGON -- Eight months after the takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge, opening statements for some of the key players began in a Portland courtroom on Tuesday.

Harney County gained national attention early this year when a group of armed protestors occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for 41 days.

The most high-profile defendants are brothers Ryan and Ammon Bundy, who headed the occupation. Ammon owns a home in Emmett. Other defendants include David Fry and Jeff Wayne Banta - some of the last people to leave the refuge. Banta was released from jail in late February.

Defendants are also Neil Wampler - convicted of second degree murder for killing his father in 1977- and Kenneth Medenbach, who was found guilty for his role in another protest in Oregon. Shawna Cox is also facing trial; she was one of two women involved and one of the first arrested occupiers to be released.

MORE: Ryan Bundy says occupiers came to help

Timeline of events

January 2, 2016: The takeover of the refuge began, with armed demonstrators storming the grounds of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

KTVB was given a tour of the refuge and spoke with one of the occupiers just days after the standoff began.

"This is a right for American citizens to access their lands," spokesman for the group, LaVoy Finicum, told KTVB.

Occupiers were standing against federal government overreach and demanding the release of two local ranchers, the Hammonds, who were convicted of arson on federal land.

The standoff sparked protests and counter-protests around the region, including a couple here in Idaho.

"It's torn our community apart," Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward said in a press conference during the standoff, "I see it tearing our country apart."

January 27, 2016: Arizona rancher and spokesman LaVoy Finicum was shot and killed, sparking outrage among the occupiers and their supporters.

Authorities said Finicum's shooting was justified, while his family said he was "executed in cold blood".

In August, his widow's attorney said she plans to sue Oregon State Police and the FBI agents responsible.

February 11, 2016: Fifteen days after Finicum's death, the stand-off ends. Twenty-six occupiers were charged with conspiracy to impede federal officers by threats, intimidation or force.

"I can say this: illegal acts such as occupying federal property in a violent manner, armed, to deprive employees or citizens access to those facilities will not be tolerated in the United States," FBI Special Agent Greg Bretzing said in a press conference on the last day of the standoff.

Among other charges, many are facing possession of firearms at a federal facility.

September 13, 2016: Opening statements in the Oregon standoff trial begin. KGW-TV in Portland reports the government argued the occupiers intentionally took over the wildlife refuge and Bureau of Land Management office in Burns, OR to keep employees from doing their job.

MORE: What to know before the Oregon occupation trial begins

The prosecutor said the defendants blamed employees for imprisoning the Hammonds.

But according to KGW, Ammon Bundy's defense attorney said Bundy wasn't threatening employees or trying to keep anyone from doing their job.

If convicted, the defendants could face between six years and two decades in prison.

This trial is expected to last until November in Portland. Eleven occupiers have taken a plea deal, and one is already in prison. Seven others will be tried next February including Sean and Sandy Anderson, who are from Riggins, Idaho.

MORE: 7 refuge workers expected to testify at Ammon Bundy's trial

Many involved in this occupation are also facing charges for a 2014 standoff in Nevada involving the Bundys' father, Cliven.

Copyright 2016 KTVB


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