Leaders of a 41-day siege of a US wildlife reserve over land ownership cleared of conspiracy and gun charges.
A federal court jury has acquitted a group of armed protesters who led a takeover of a US wildlife refuge in Oregon earlier this year.
The seven anti-government protesters, including brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, were charged with conspiring to impede federal employees at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge through intimidation or force.
The six men and one woman each faced up to six years in prison on the conspiracy charge. Several also faced gun charges in the high-profile trial that last five weeks.
The 41-day siege that began on January 2 at the remote reserve put the spotlight on a long-running dispute over millions of acres of public land in the US West.
It was led by the Bundy brothers, whose father Cliven Bundy had been involved in a similar confrontation in 2014 with federal officials over cattle grazing on public land in Nevada.
The takeover in Oregon ended with the dramatic surrender of four holdouts, including one who threatened to commit suicide in a phone call with mediators that was streamed live.
The group’s spokesman, LaVoy Finicum, had earlier been shot and killed by police during a traffic stop as he, the Bundys and several others were headed to a community meeting to plead their cause.
In a climax to the trial in the US District Court in Portland on Thursday, Ammon Bundy’s lawyer, Marcus Mumford, was tackled to the floor by US marshals as he became involved in a heated verbal exchange with the judge over the terms of his client’s release.
The verdict came hours after a newly reconstituted jury, with an alternate seated to replace one panelist dismissed over questions of bias on Tuesday, renewed deliberations in the case. Jurors previously had deliberated over three days.
For decades, land rights has been a thorny issue in western US states, where the federal government owns most of the land.
Many conservative politicians and ranchers like the Bundys argue that the land has been mismanaged and should be handed over to states or turned into private property.
- Ammon Bundy lead the armed occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge