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Malheur occupier convicted in Josephine County case

One of the former occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has been convicted of unlawfully occupying federal lands in Josephine County.

Kenneth Medenbach, 63, of Crescent, was convicted Monday by a federal jury in Eugene for his role in a protest last year at the Sugar Pine Mine near Galice.

Local members of a national organization called Oath Keepers had issued a nationwide call for volunteers to defend a contested claim at the remote mine on BLM land in April 2015.

In May 2015, Medenbach delivered a letter to BLM claiming “adverse possession” of 320 acres of federal land near the Sugar Pine Mine. Medenbach erected a small cabin along a BLM road and refused to remove it, despite repeated warnings by the agency, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Portland.

BLM regulations provide that a person may not camp or occupy the same site for more than 14 days without authorization. Medenbach was later charged with unlawful occupation and illegal camping.

Medenbach argued the federal government did not have constitutional authority to possess public lands in Oregon and that federal courts did not have authority to interpret the U.S. Constitution, the release said.

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane rejected both legal claims and the jury convicted Medenbach on both of the charges at the Eugene trial.

McShane ordered the removal of Medenbach’s illegal cabin. Medenbach will be sentenced Aug. 1 and faces up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Medenbach was the first armed occupier of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to be arrested after the Jan. 2 takeover in Eastern Oregon. A federal judge ruled Medenbach violated the conditions of his pretrial release for the Josephine County case when he was arrested Jan. 15 for allegedly driving a stolen refuge pickup into Burns to get supplies at a grocery store.

The Josephine County case was investigated by BLM and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas W. Fong.