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Feds, defense attorneys at odds over 2nd trial of refuge occupiers

SALEM — Three weeks after blanket acquittals for seven defendants in the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge outside Burns, defense attorneys for a second set of defendants and federal prosecutors are at odds over when to summon a pool of jurors for the second trial.

Defense attorneys want a pool of 2,000 jurors to be summoned as soon as possible, but federal prosecutors on Wednesday sought a delay.

In a joint status report to a federal judge, attorneys on both sides agreed to file pretrial motions by Dec. 16 and having arguments over the motions take place the week of Jan. 16. The trial is scheduled to start in federal court in Portland on Feb. 14.

Defense attorney Jesse Merrithew has argued that the acquittals of seven other defendants last month on the same conspiracy charge will make it more difficult to seat an impartial jury.

"We're requesting more jurors be summoned this time because 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.

"The reaction of the public to the verdicts was extremely negative," Merrithew added, citing media reports. "We're going to have a harder time seating an impartial jury than the first time."

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. 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.

The status report filed Wednesday said about 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."

But federal prosecutors in the same document asked that "issuance of the summonses be delayed while the government evaluates its position regarding the February defendants." The federal prosecutors said they defer to the judge on the number of summonses to issue.