October 20, 2016 / 10:10 AM / 3 years ago

Jury completes day one of deliberations in Oregon refuge trial

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - A federal court jury completed its first day of deliberations without reaching a verdict on Thursday in the trial of six men and a woman charged with conspiracy for their roles in the armed takeover of a U.S. Wildlife center in Oregon earlier this year.

Occupier Duane Ehmer rides his horse Hellboy at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, January 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart/File Photo

The 12-member panel was expected to return to U.S. District Court in Portland on Monday to resume deliberations. The trial is dark on Friday.

The jurors are considering weeks of testimony from trial witnesses, some of whom took part in the 41-day siege at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in remote eastern Oregon that began in early January.

The militants’ leader, Ammon Bundy, and six followers are charged with conspiracy to impede federal officers through intimidation, threats or force, as well as with possession of firearms in a federal facility and theft of government property.

Each faces up to six years in prison if convicted of conspiracy alone.

The occupiers say they acted out of solidarity for two Oregon ranchers they believed were unfairly punished in an arson case, and to protest their larger grievance against federal control over millions of acres of public land in the West.

Bundy and others, including his brother and co-defendant Ryan Bundy, cast the takeover as a legitimate and patriotic act of civil disobedience.

The government has countered that the defendants engaged in a lawless scheme to seize federal property by armed force.

Prosecutors also argued that defendants’ own claims that they sought to confiscate the refuge under an obscure doctrine of property law called “adverse possession” was itself an admission they were conspiring to prevent federal employees from returning to their jobs.

More than two dozen people have been charged in connection with the Malheur takeover, and a second group of defendants are due to stand trial in February.

At the conclusion of their trial in Oregon, the Bundy brothers face assault, conspiracy and other charges stemming from a separate 2014 armed standoff with law enforcement in Nevada at the cattle ranch of their father, Cliven Bundy.

Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by David Gregorio and Leslie Adler

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