'Mr. Bundy, how ya doing?' begins rare exchange between Bundy brothers at trial
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on October 09, 2016 at 5:00 AM, updated October 09, 2016 at 9:30 AM
Oregon standoff trial
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"Good,'' younger brother Ammon Bundy responded. "How you doing brother?''
The greeting began what legal experts say was an extremely rare direct examination between two defendants who are brothers: one serving as his own lawyer and the other testifying in his own defense.
"I can't remember another case like this,'' said Margaret L. "Margie" Paris, a University of Oregon law professor and the UO Law School's former dean.
The Bundy brothers are among seven defendants charged with conspiring to prevent federal employees from carrying out their work through intimidation, threats or force during a 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Ryan Bundy, 43, dressed in a black suit jacket and white dress shirt, asked his brother Thursday about their shared upbringing, their faith and values. But he also sought to show that he didn't know about Ammon Bundy's idea to take over the bird sanctuary until just hours before, when he found out at a morning meeting Jan. 2.
He sat beside his standby counsel and volunteer paralegal as he questioned his brother.
"How long have you known me?" Ryan Bundy asked.
"For my whole life,'' Ammon Bundy, 41, said smiling, drawing laughter from observers in the public gallery.
"Did we work, did we play, did we wrestle, did we care for each other our whole lives?'' Ryan Bundy asked.
"Yes,'' replied Ammon Bundy, dressed in blue jail scrubs.
Ryan Bundy asked if the two learned through the teachings of the gospel "to love your neighbor?''
Ammon Bundy nodded in agreement and said yes.
"Do we share common concerns?" Ryan Bundy asked.
"Absolutely,'' his brother replied.
Ryan Bundy established that the two spoke in December about the need to support Harney County ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and son Steven Hammond, who were to return to federal prison Jan. 4 to serve out mandatory minimum sentences of five years for setting fire to federal land.
But did the brothers speak then about the refuge?
"Absolutely not,'' Ammon Bundy testified.
"When did I first arrive in Burns?'' Ryan Bundy inquired.
Ammon Bundy, 41, recalled that his brother, who raises cattle and melon and lives with his wife and children in Cedar City, Utah, arrived in town mid-morning on Jan. 2 and that he had driven to Oregon with Robert "LaVoy'' Finicum, an Arizona rancher.
"I know you weren't very prepared for the cold weather,'' Ammon Bundy added.
Ammon Bundy had testified earlier during hours of questioning by his defense lawyer that he was inspired by God on Jan. 1 to take a "hard stand'' after not receiving any response from Harney County or state officials to repeated requests to protect the Hammonds from returning to prison.
He said he didn't share his plan to stake claim to the refuge southeast of Burns until the morning of Jan. 2 in a back room of Ye Old Castle restaurant with a group of about 30 supporters.
"Was I there at that meeting?'' Ryan Bundy asked.
"Yes , you were,'' Ammon Bundy said.
There, Ammon Bundy said, he presented his idea and half of the group supported him. A march in support of the Hammonds then proceeded through Burns that afternoon. Afterward, Ryan Bundy with a handful of others made an initial run to the refuge for the armed takeover, according to witnesses who testified for the government.
Ryan Bundy asked for jurors to be shown a government exhibit that displayed a list of names matched with duties that the FBI found on Ammon Bundy's iPhone. The notes from the phone were dated Jan. 7.
"Why is my name under 'claim'?'' Ryan Bundy asked.
"Because you volunteered,'' Ammon Bundy responded.
Is staking claim to the land part of the adverse possession process, Ryan Bundy asked. His brother said it was. Ammon Bundy testified that the occupation was a form of political protest – seeking to claim the refuge property for the people of Harney County through the adverse possession principle.
Ryan Bundy asked his brother how he thought the refuge occupation was going to end?
Ammon Bundy said either the land would be transferred to the people and ranchers of Harney County or the government would "trespass us.''
"We welcomed both of those'' outcomes, Ammon Bundy testified.
"Has this land issue been going on for decades?'' Ryan Bundy asked, referring to disputes about federal management of public lands.
"Yes,'' Ammon Bundy answered.
"Does it affect many people in the western United States?'' Ryan Bundy asked.
His brother said, "Yes.''
Ryan Bundy informed the court he had no other questions, allowing other defense lawyers to proceed. Yet a short time later, Ryan Bundy had a chance to ask more questions during a redirect examination.
After a prosecutor asked his brother about changes made to the refuge during the occupation, including the building of a new road to the bunkhouse, Ryan Bundy challenged that characterization.
"Brother Ammon,'' started Ryan Bundy this time, as he asked for jurors to examine a Google photo of the refuge from May 8, 2015, eight months before the refuge occupation.
The photo appeared to show two faint paths leading to the bunkhouse. Ryan Bundy asked his brother to circle both paths on his computer screen, attempting to challenge the prosecution's contention that occupiers used refuge equipment to build a new road on the property.
"Further digging was done to help improve the wheelchair access?'' Ryan Bundy asked.
"Yes,'' Ammon Bundy said.
With that, Ryan Bundy was done.
Ammon Bundy answered another lawyer's questions and stepped down from the witness stand, returning to his defense lawyer's table, beside his brother's defense table.
-- Maxine Bernstein