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SALEM, Ore. – Lawyers for a second set of defendants to be tried for the occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon said Wednesday they want a pool of 2,000 jurors to be summoned as soon as possible. But the prosecution sought a delay while it "evaluates its position" on the defendants.
The opposing stances were contained in a status report filed in federal court in Portland, three weeks after a jury acquitted seven other defendants — including two of the occupation leaders — of the same conspiracy charge: conspiring to impede federal workers from their jobs.
Even though the government said it wanted to evaluate its position, attorneys on both sides agreed to file pretrial motions by Dec. 16 and for arguments over the motions to take place the week of Jan. 16. The trial is scheduled to start on Feb. 14.
Defense attorney Jesse Merrithew told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday that the larger jury pool is needed because the acquittals of seven other defendants will make it harder to seat an impartial jury.
"It will be more difficult to find jurors that have not heard of the case and come to some conclusion about what happened," Merrithew said, adding that "the reaction of the public to the verdicts was extremely negative."
However, some potential jurors in the upcoming trial might believe the previous jury was justified in acquitting the defendants, Merrithew acknowledged.
The armed group seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 2 and occupied it for 41 days to oppose prison sentences for two local ranchers convicted of setting fires and to protest federal control of public lands in the West. One occupier, LaVoy Finicum, was shot to death by state police at a roadblock as he and occupation leaders were driving to a meeting in an adjacent county.
Merrithew's client is Jake Ryan, whom Merrithew described as "a very low-level guy" among the occupiers.
"The government has provided no information what he was doing in the refuge," the attorney said. "I believe he operated a backhoe to dig a trench after LaVoy Finicum was shot."
Besides Ryan, defendants in the second trial are Dylan Anderson, Sandra Anderson, Sean Anderson, Duane Ehmer, Jason Patrick and Darryl Thorn.
Andrew Kohlmetz, Patrick's attorney, said he believes the prior acquittals — including of occupation leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy — should be taken into account by prosecutors.
"As a matter of fairness, I don't see how the federal government can say we respect that jury's verdict and then turn around and try less culpable defendants," Kohlmetz said in a telephone interview.
Wednesday's status report said, regarding the jury pool, that "Defendants' position is that the summonses have to go out as soon as possible, and they request 2000 summonses be issued."
The prosecution's response was that it "requests that the issuance of the summonses be delayed while the government evaluates its position regarding the February defendants."
Kevin Sonoff, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, had no immediate comment when asked for clarification on what that meant.
In an earlier interview with AP, Tung Yin, a law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland who has been closely following the case, said prosecutors might be more rigorous in jury selection, sweeten plea deals or even go for lesser charges instead of the felony conspiracy charge.
Eleven other defendants pleaded guilty under plea bargains before the acquittals in the first trial on Oct. 27.
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