PORTLAND, Ore. — A federal judge in Oregon found four men guilty Tuesday of misdemeanor counts of trespassing and tampering with government vehicles and equipment during last year’s high-profile takeover of a wildlife refuge after a bench trial that was overshadowed by the conviction of the same men by a jury on more serious felony charges.
U.S. District Judge Anna Brown found defendants Jason Patrick, Darryl Thorn, Duane Ehmer and Jake Ryan guilty of the lesser crimes 11 days after the men were convicted by a Portland jury of charges ranging from conspiracy to possession of firearms in a federal facility. Patrick was also found guilty of destruction and removal of property on Tuesday.
Early in the trial proceedings, Brown separated the misdemeanors from the felonies and pegged them for a bench trial over the objections of the defense, who felt allowing the jury — and not the judge — to consider the lesser charges would have helped their clients.
Patrick, who was part of the initial group that seized the refuge in remote southeastern Oregon, has said he will appeal the case.
They all face years in prison at a sentencing hearing set for next month.
Thorn, Ehmer and Ryan remain free while awaiting sentencing but Patrick chose to turn himself in Tuesday.
The outcome for these four men is sharply different from their fellow occupiers, who were tried in the same court last fall.
Brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy and five others were acquitted of conspiracy charges by a different jury in a verdict that was seen as a major upset of the prosecution.
But the U.S. attorney’s office refused to dismiss charges against the second round of lesser-known defendants.
Dozens of people occupied the refuge from Jan. 2 to Feb. 11, 2016 to show support for two Oregon ranchers who were imprisoned for setting fires on federal rangeland.
The defendants said their takeover was a constitutionally protected protest against federal control of public lands in the Western U.S.
The armed crowd was allowed to come and go for several weeks as authorities tried to avoid bloodshed seen in past standoffs at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho.
Prosecutors argued in both cases that the defendants had conspired to overrun the refuge and occupy it — and in doing so, they had prevented federal workers from doing their jobs there.
The Bundys and other key figures were arrested in a Jan. 26, 2016 traffic stop outside the refuge that ended when police fatally shot occupation spokesman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum. Most occupiers of the refuge left shortly after Finicum’s death, including the four defendants in the current trial, but a few holdouts remained for a few more weeks before surrendering.
A total of 26 people were indicted on the conspiracy charge.
In addition to the 11 who appeared in the two trials, 14 pleaded guilty and charges were dropped against one man.