All-White jury hears opening statements in armed standoff trial

Bald eagles at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Photo by Steve Shunk / USFWS

A high-profile trial into the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge continued in Oregon on Wednesday.

Seven people -- including the ringleaders -- are facing numerous federal charges in connection with the 41-day standoff. All have pleaded not guilty and all will have their fates decided by a 12-member, all-White jury, The Washington Post reported.

According to news reports, the jury heard vastly conflicting views of the confrontation during opening arguments, which lasted all day on Tuesday. Federal prosecutors repeatedly talked about the firearms and military-style tactics the participated engaged in during the incident.

But an attorney for Ammon Bundy, one of the ringleaders, described the showdown as one of civil disobedience against the government. According to The New York Times, the legal status of the 187,000-acre refuge was brought up during opening arguments.

"The federal government didn’t have the right to own" the land, the attorney said, The Times reported.

In 1872, the government set aside 1.2 million acres in and around the refuge as a reservation for the Burns Paiute Tribe. Six years later, the government kicked the tribe off the land and forced its members to march to reservations in Washington following the Bannock War in 1878.

The Indian Claims Commission later determined that the tribe should have been compensated for the theft. A settlement put just $743.20 in the hands of each tribal member in 1969, The Oregonian reported earlier this year. Some members want to reopen the judgment, saying they were cheated.

The trial, which is taking place in Portland, is expected to last two weeks, The Times reported. A second trial involving more standoff participants is scheduled to take place in February 2017.

Read More on the Story:
The Oregon wildlife refuge takeover ended seven months ago. The trial is now getting underway. (The Washington Post 9/13)
Prosecutor: Occupiers being tried for actions, not beliefs (AP 9/13)
Line forms early outside federal courthouse on day of Bundy trial's opening statements (The Oregonian 9/13)
Two contrasting portraits of refuge occupation emerge during opening statements (The Oregonian 9/13)
Oregon Refuge Occupiers Were Protesting, Lawyer Says (The New York Times 9/14)

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