Defense attorneys for Ammon Bundy and six others accused of taking over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year got off to a rocky start Wednesday morning as they began making their case.
U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown grew visibly frustrated during the initial proceedings as it became unclear who on the defense would call the first witnesses, and which witnesses would be called.
“I’m not here to organize your case. I don’t want to,” Brown told the defense attorneys.
The prosecution said they had only received the witness list Wednesday morning from Ammon Bundy’s attorney, Marcus Mumford, and hadn’t had enough time to go through it.
“Get it together, folks.” a frustrated Brown added after about 30 minutes of the defense trying to figure who would call the witnesses. “It’s 9 o’clock. Someone call a witness.”
Eventually, occupier David Fry’s attorney, Per Olsen, stepped up to call the first witness for the defense, FBI negotiator Mark Maxwell.
Maxwell spent several weeks in Harney County and spoke on the phone with Fry and fellow occupier Jeff Banta in the final days of the 41-day takeover. Olsen’s line of questioning seemed to be driving at establishing his client’s mental state in those final days.
Olsen asked Maxwell about Fry holding a gun to his head and having suicidal thoughts. Maxwell testified about working through suicide prevention techniques with Fry. He also described the final conversation with Fry, when the 28-year-old from Ohio demanded negotiators say “hallelujah” before he would surrender.
“I said ‘hallelujah,’” Maxwell said.
“And he came out?” Olsen asked.
“And he came out,” Maxwell said.
The defense also called a member of the Confederated Tribes Of Siletz Indians: Shellia Warren. She visited the refuge for several hours Jan. 24, when she met with Ryan Bundy and several others involved in the occupation. Warren testified she visited the refuge to check on Native American artifacts and found that they were fine when she arrived. Though she also admitted she didn’t actually enter the room where the artifacts were being stored.
Warren’s testimony was supportive of the defense’s assertion the occupation was a peaceful protest. She described being greeted warmly by the occupiers, and not witnessing any weapons at the refuge during her visit.
Warren’s testimony ran counter to evidence from the prosecution in the initial weeks of the trial, which included photos depicting armed guards stationed at the entrance to the refuge. Warren testified she never felt threatened during her visit.
During cross examination from Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight, Warren acknowledged she’s been disavowed from the Siletz Tribe.
“I’m not speaking for the Siletz,” she responded.
Knight also questioned her about why she chose to meet with Ryan Bundy despite declining to speak with the FBI on her visit to Burns.
“I didn’t trust the FBI,” she said.
During a line of questioning from defense attorney Mumford about her distrust of the FBI, Brown became agitated and order Warren to stop talking when her testimony seemed to start veering toward bringing up the shooting death of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum two days after her visit. The judge has previously ruled the shooting is not up for discussion during this trial, except to mention that it happened and when it happened.
The defense plans to call several more FBI agents Wednesday, and informed the court they will also call Harney County Sheriff David Ward to the stand at some point.