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Trial begins in Ammon Bundy trespassing case

Multiple potential jurors said they had heard about the arrests, but most agreed that they could listen to the evidence and make an impartial decision.
Credit: Ryan Suppe/The Idaho Press
Ammon Bundy was taken into police custody on Tuesday, August 25, after refusing to leave an auditorium in the Idaho statehouse.

BOISE, Idaho — A prosecutor asked Ada County jurors during the first day of a trespassing trial to send the message to a prominent anti-government demonstrator and his associate that the laws of Idaho still apply to them.

"There are rules for a democracy," Prosecutor Whitney Welsh said Monday. "This case is about the fact that two people, Ammon Bundy and Aaron Von Schmidt, have decided that the rules just don't apply to them."

Bundy and Von Schmidt were charged with misdemeanor trespassing more than ten months ago after refusing to leave a hearing room in the Idaho Capitol building. Bundy faces an additional misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest.

Welsh said the arrests came in August 2020 during the special session of the Idaho Legislature. A group of people who had come to the Statehouse to oppose a proposed bill remained inside the Lincoln Auditorium after the hearing was switched to a different room.

Just after 5 p.m., she said, Speaker of the House Scott Bedke asked Idaho State Police to clear the room.

Everyone left except for the defendants, who were taken into custody, the prosecutor said. 

"At the conclusion of the state's evidence, the state will stand before you and ask you to hold these two men accountable," Welsh said. 

Bundy's lawyer, Sam Bishop, urged the jury to take a different view. 

"You are not going to be asked to agree with what Ammon Bundy had to say or what he was doing," Bishop said. "You will be asked to defend his right to express his views."

Bishop argued that the Statehouse is open to the public and that Bundy was not breaking any rules by going to the Capitol to register his disagreement with proposed legislation, or by remaining in the hearing room.

"Ask yourself - if Ammon Bundy can be kicked out of the statehouse for any reason, who else can? Anybody," Bishop said.

Von Schmidt, who is acting as his own lawyer, echoed that sentiment, telling jurors that "there was a lot of concerned people there" at the Capitol building the day he was arrested, and arguing that he had done nothing wrong. 

"You're going to see that I was well within my rights to be there at the Capitol," he said. "You're going to see that I was peaceful."

Idaho State Police Sgt. Blake Higley testified he made the announcement to leave "multiple, multiple times," telling the 18 people left inside the room that they needed to exit or face arrest for trespassing. 

Ultimately, everyone left but the defendants, who were taken into custody. Von Schmidt did not resist his arrest, Higley said, but that was not the case with Bundy.

"He made himself dead weight. He wouldn't stand up, he wouldn't do anything to assist, so it took us picking him up, putting him in a roller chair to get him out of the Capitol, because he wouldn't walk," he said.

Bundy, who also led a 41-day occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016, was issued a yearlong no-trespassing notice banning him from the Statehouse following his arrest. He has been arrested several more times since; once for missing his original trial date in the trespassing case, then twice more in a matter of hours for returning to the Statehouse in violation of the no-trespassing order.

The first day of the trial began with jury selection. Judge David Manweiler and the attorneys questioned members of the jury pool about what they had heard about the defendants or the case, whether they personally knew Bundy, Von Schmidt, or the attorneys, their opinions on the limits of free speech, and whether they had attended any protests at the Idaho Capitol or other statehouses around the country.

Several people were dismissed from consideration, including some who said they had already formed an opinion about the defendants and did not think they could be impartial, a worker at the Ada County Jail, a woman who said she had memory issues and would struggle to remember what was said during the trial, and another who said she would not follow the law or the judge's instruction to jurors if she did not agree with it. 

Multiple potential jurors said they had heard about the arrests on the news or social media, but most agreed that they could listen to the evidence and make an impartial decision about whether Bundy and Von Schmidt are guilty or innocent. 

Several members of law enforcement took the stand as witnesses Tuesday to describe the circumstances of Von Schmidt and Bundy's arrests. Several members of Idaho State Police testified the men were arrested after being told repeatedly to leave the Lincoln Auditorium after the room was ordered to be cleared.

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