READER Augus t17 ,2017 | .14 I s s ue33 FREE| Vol
P ar t s1 5 b yb e no l s o n
STAND-off at ruby ridge:
R E T A L S R A E Y 5 2 Part 1
In this surveillance photo from the federal government, Kevin Harris, left, Sammy Weaver, center and dog Striker walk toward the woodpile on the Weaver property near Naples. Public Domain photo. By Ben Olson Reader Staff Editor’s Note: In the early morning of Aug. 21, 1992, six U.S. Deputy Marshals moved onto a steep, mountainous piece of property off of Ruby Creek Road near Naples, Idaho on what was later termed a “reconnaissance mission” to convince Randy Weaver — who had been indicted on illegal weapons charges — to surrender to authorities. A few hours later, Marshal Dave Hunt made a 911 call to the Boundary County Sheriff’s Office stating that federal agents were trapped on a ridge in Naples taking heavy fire. The call, like much of the early story of Ruby Ridge, was less than true. It triggered one of the largest law enforcement operations ever to occur in Idaho. Ten days later, three people and the family dog had been killed. Two adults were wounded. North Idaho had been plunged into the national spotlight for what would come to be known as “The StandOff at Ruby Ridge,” leaving many in the country wondering whether its federal government could be trusted. Ruby Ridge, along with the siege at Waco, Texas, was regarded as a main cause for the rise of the modern militia movement. The story of the governmental action that led to the events that 16 /
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took place at the Weaver property has been the subject of countless books, films and television specials over 25 years. For those who grew up here, it is a familiar story; albeit a story far too complex to tell within the bounds of this newspaper. For those unfamiliar, what follows is a brief synopsis of the lead-up to the stand-off, the actions that occurred during those tense eleven days in August and the subsequent trial that ultimately saw Randy Weaver acquitted of the murder charge against him. Special care has been taken to present the information as recorded by known facts; however, due to multiple conflicting accounts of the incident, some details are still contested. Trial testimony, newspaper articles and first-hand accounts helped lay down the groundwork for this multiple part series, as well as several books and television news specials. It is not the Reader’s desire to pass judgment on one side or the other, but simply to present an overview of this incident that has left a lasting impression not only on the surviving members of the Weaver family and neighbors, but the nation as a whole. Attempts were made to interview a member of the Weaver family but were ultimately denied. A Foundation of Belief
Randy Weaver met Vicki Jordison in the mid-1960s while they both lived in Iowa. After enlisting and completing Green Beret
training, Randy and Vicki became engaged and married in 1971. While the counterculture revolution swarmed around them, Randy and Vicki - both having been raised in Christian families - began searching for a new religious purpose. They studied prophecies from the New Testament, in particular, the Book of Revelation and agreed that these words could serve as a guide to future events in the world. Vicki gave birth to their first daughter, Sara, in 1976, followed by a son, Samuel, two years later. It was during this time that Vicki claimed she was having visions from God which ultimately led the Weaver family west to a wooded hillside in North Idaho. “Here were two admired/ respected Christians living and working in Waterloo, Iowa who abandoned a great job with the John Deere Corporation, family and friends to move to northern Idaho,” Ron Howen, federal prosecutor during the Randy Weaver trial, wrote to the Reader. “Vicki Weaver’s ‘vision from God’ was that the second coming of Christ would occur during a shootout with ZOG (Zionist Occupation Government) on a mountain top in northern Idaho.” According to Howen, Vicki began using apocalyptic language that fit within what has become known as the Identity movement.
“One of the tenets of this ‘movement’,” wrote Howen, “is that the white race are the true descendants of the true 12 lost tribes of Israel.” Though this same philosophy is shared with groups such as the Aryan Nations led by Richard Butler in Hayden during the 1980s and ‘90s, the Weavers always claimed to not harbor any racial animosity. In August 1983, after Vicki had given birth to a third child named Rachel, the Weavers sold their home in Waterloo, Iowa, and headed west. A Cabin in the Woods
After driving across the country on a two-week search for property, the Weavers ended up in the panhandle of Idaho. They located a piece of property outside of Naples, just south of Bonners Ferry, Idaho. The property, which overlooked Ruby Creek and the Kootenai River valley, would afterward come to be known as Ruby Ridge, though the actual Ruby Ridge lies on the hillside opposite the Weaver cabin. The young family constructed a simple cabin with plywood walls. The children were taught at home, with an emphasis on Identity beliefs. Seventeen-year-old Kevin Harris began living on the property with the Weavers. During the mid-1980s, other
Identity Christians were moving to North Idaho, some preaching “white separatism.” While white supremacists believe the Aryan race is naturally superior to others, white separatists believe that the Aryan race should be separated from other “inferior” races by economic, social and cultural means. “It was constantly disheartening to me that people like Randy and Vicki Weaver would fall for such garbage and head to northern Idaho to assemble with like-minded people,” wrote Howen. “They weren’t the first and they won’t be the last.” Not all of the Weaver’s neighbors were “like-minded” people. At one point in 1984, a neighbor had a dispute with Randy over a land deal that ended in Weaver’s favor. As a result, the neighbor wrote letters to the FBI, Secret Service and Boundary County Sheriff alleging Weaver had threatened to kill the president, the pope and the governor of Idaho. In January 1985, the Secret Service investigated the allegations. The Secret Service had been told Weaver was a member of the Aryan Nations and that he had a large cache of weapons at his cabin. After an interview with Randy and Vicki by a handful of federal agents and local law enforcement, no charges were filed. It was this incident with
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federal agents that initially led the Weavers to believe that the government was “after them.” In late Feb. 1985, Randy and Vicki filed an affidavit with the county courthouse claiming that certain neighbors were plotting to provoke the FBI into attacking and killing the Weaver family. There was never any proof found that what these neighbors said was true. A Brush With Hate
In the decade leading up to the stand-off at Ruby Ridge, white supremacist groups had been making the news in North Idaho. The Aryan Nations, led by Richard Butler, lived on a 40-acre encampment in Hayden Lake, where they began holding a “summer camp” called the Aryan Nations World Congress. The camp offered everything from weapons practice to courses on guerrilla warfare. Anti-Semitic, anti-black and anti-homosexual propaganda was handed out to participants. The Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations was founded in 1981 after a restaurant owned by a Jewish family was defaced with swastikas in nearby Coeur d’Alene. Another task force leader’s house was bombed. “Frankly, the federal government was asleep at the wheel in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1980s regarding the white supremacy groups that were forming such as Aryan Nations/Church of Jesus Christ in Hayden Lake,” wrote Howen. “The FBI, BATF and the U.S. (Attorney’s Office) did not recognize or fully understand the danger that such groups or individuals posed to the public and minorities in particular until the group The Order burst on the scene in 1984.” The self-proclaimed “revolutionary” group called The Order became involved in a series of violent crimes such as bombings, bank robberies and escalating to the brutal murder of Alan Berg, a liberal, Jewish talk show host in Denver. Many members of The Order were prosecuted by Howen and sent to prison, but a second Order emerged with closer ties to Butler in Hayden Lake. In 1986, another series of bombs were set off in the Coeur d’Alene area. The FBI became involved, along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), the Secret Service and local law enforcement. On at least three occasions, the Weavers attended the World Congress at the Aryan Nations compound. While the Weavers reportedly felt sympathetic to the Aryan Nations cause, they made a point of not joining the church. One of Randy’s neighbors, Gene Hopkins, said that Randy told him, “That place was full of crooks and convicts.” In 1989, Randy met a biker named Gus Magisono at the World Congress. The two were friendly to one another and kept in touch after the congress was over. Randy was pressed for money, cutting and selling
firewood and doing odd jobs, and Magisono said Randy could make some money selling guns. Magisono said he was in touch with people within the Order who needed sawed-off shotguns. Magisono later testified that Randy said he’d never sold a sawed-off shotgun before in his life and was reluctant to break the law. However, strapped for cash, Randy eventually agreed to do it, said Magisono. According to testimony at the trial, Randy pulled his pickup next to Magisono’s car and pulled out a Remington pump-action shotgun from a case. The biker touched the barrel at about the 13-inch point, saying, “About here.” Magisono said Randy delivered two sawed-off shotguns a week later for which he was paid $300, according to trial testimony. Gus Magisono was actually Kenneth Fadeley. Fadeley had been arrested for gunrunning by the BATF, who offered him clemency if he could recruit more people to do undercover work within the white supremacist groups such as the Aryan Nations and The Order. The Warrant
Eight months later, Randy Weaver was approached by two BATF agents near Deep Creek, Idaho, who claimed to have incriminating tape recordings of his dealings with Fadeley/Magisono. The agents said Randy could avoid arrest if he agreed to spy on the Aryan Nations, an offer he rejected. In December 1990, Randy was indicted on federal firearms charges. Randy and Vicki were driving down the road leading from their property a few weeks later and saw a pickup parked and blocking the bridge with its hood up. A man and a woman were standing looking at the engine. The Weavers stopped to help and were soon surrounded by BATF agents who had sprung out of the truck’s camper shell. Randy was arrested and taken to the Boundary County jail, where he posted a $10,000 bond with his property as collateral and returned home to the cabin. At that time, Randy was erroneously told by the judge that if he didn’t show up to court to answer the charges, he would not only forfeit his bail, but would lose his property. Randy’s court date was originally set for Feb. 21, but later moved up to Feb. 20. However, the official notice sent out by probation officer Karl Richins to the Weavers listed the court date as March 20. Richins later testified that Weaver had been sent the wrong date for his trial. When Richins notified his superiors, he was taken off the case and told not to correct the mistake. When asked about the date discrepancy, Howen wrote, “I can’t recall the dates you refer to accurately 25 years later. In the Randy Weaver case, I decided to obtain a secret indictment and then wait to see whether Mr. Weaver appeared at the later date. If he had appeared on March 20th and explained his
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A sequence of events The Weavers sell their home in Waterloo, Iowa and relocate to North Idaho where they complete a cabin on Ruby Creek outside of Naples
The BATF contacts Weaver and attempts to use the sawed-off shotgun charge to get him to be an informant for the investigation into the Aryan Nations. Weaver refuses. A federal grand jury indicts Weaver on making and possessing illegal weapons in Dec. 1990
The U.S. Marshals become involved. A threat assesment is prepared on Weaver. Surveillance begins on the Weaver property. The Marshals attempt methods for Weaver’s peaceful surrender to no avail.
Washington, D.C. is notified of a situation at Ruby Ridge. Gov. Cecil Andrus declares a state of emergency. The Idaho National Guard is deployed, along with the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team. Special rules of engagement are drafted in Washington that dra would be heavily scrutinized later in the subsequent trial.
The stand-off lasts eleven days total. With the assistance of civilian negotiator Bo Gritz, Weaver ultimately surrenders to authorities on Aug. 31
After attending at least 3 World Aryan Congresses in Hayden Lake, Weaver invited a BATF informant to his home and was later said to have sold two sawed-off shotguns to the informant for $300
A pair of BATF agents posing as broken down motorists arrest Weaver near his property. Trial date is set for Feb. 19, then changed to Feb. 20. Weaver is told trial date is March 20. After his failure to appear, a bench warrant is issued. A federal grand jury indicts him on March 14 for failure to appear
The incident at the “Y” takes place. A six-man team of U.S. Marshals move into surveillance position on the Weaver property. Marshal Art Roderick shoots and kills the dog Striker. Fourteen-year-old Sammy Weaver is shot and killed by Marshal Terry Cooper. Kevin Harris shoots and kills Marshal William Degan, claiming self-defense. Harris was later acquitted.
Day Two of the stand-off brings the media and more law enforcement personnel. FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi fires at Randy Weaver by the birthing shed, wounding him in the back. While Weaver runs back to the cabin, Horiuchi fires a second shot, killing Vicki Weaver while she held baby Elisheba, also wounding Kevin Harris with the same shot.
August 17, 2017 /
Remembering Ruby Ridge
We reached out to a number of key players involved with the Ruby Ridge incident and asked them for some remembrances from 25 years ago. The following excerpts were submitted by the individual listed, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Sandpoint Reader editorial staff. Next week, we will publish additional remembrances.
Lt. Col. “Bo” Gritz
Mike Weland. Mike Weland is author of “An Interview with the Randy Weaver Family,” published in the Bonners Ferry Herald May 2, 1992. Weland is currently editor of News Bonners Ferry (www.newsbf.com)
“Bo” Gritz. Lt. Col. Bo Gritz (ret.), 22-year army veteran with the U.S. Special Forces and author of three books (most recently, “My Brother’s Keeper”). Uninvited, he traveled to Naples and negotiated the surrender of Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris, ending the siege. He now lives in Nevada with his wife, Judy. (www.bogritz.com): Dick Rogers, the FBI Hostage Response Team Commander said to me: “If you don’t have them out by noon, we’re going to take them out! If you’re with them, you’ll go with them!” I couldn’t tell the Weavers, it would cause them to be more determined to die in place like Sammy and Vicki. Randy Weaver told me: “Thank You, Bo, but they will have to kill us like they did our mom, and little brother.” I prayed hard and suddenly the door opened, and Randy told his daughters: “Get your things together, we’re going to follow Colonel Bo down the hill.” I had Randy’s right hand tightly in my left as we started down the rickety stairway. The girls, huddled together, closely followed. I had called Gerry Spence, Esq. the day before, and by God’s Grace, he agreed to defend Randy for free. Ruby Ridge was space in time when federal law enforcement blanked out the U.S. Constitution and went as crazy as a demented PTSD combat vet. In this madness four lives were violently taken (U.S. Marshal William Degan, Sammy and Vicki Weaver, along with their loyal dog, Striker. Sorry to say this wasn’t the end. I’ve been involved in more than a dozen other deadly sieges where Americans were in harm’s way thinking they were right when the government thought them to be wrong. 18 /
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One of the nation’s most well-known attorneys, Spence has never lost a criminal case, and has not lost a civil case since 1969. He successfully defended Randy Weaver on murder, assault, conspiracy and gun charges in the famous Idaho federal standoff case at no charge. Spence is the founder and director of the nonprofit Trial Lawyers College (triallawyerscollege.org) where lawyers, young and old, learn the Spence method of trying cases on behalf of the people. Now retired, the law firm he established is still active and can be found at spencelawyers.com: My most vivid memory of that time is the terrifying power the United States, including its military, launched against an innocent family trying to survive in the wilderness. It brought great shame on our government and its agencies and was a precursor to a totalitarian nation. Twenty-five year later we have likely learned little. The human memory is both short-lived and flawed, and the forces that brought on the standoff at Ruby Ridge are still at play, mostly unfettered.
Randy Weaver, left, talks with his counsel Gerry Spence, right, during his trial. Public Domain photo.
Jess Walter. Jess Walter, author of six novels including “And Every Knee Shall Bow: the Truth and Tragedy of Ruby Ridge and the Randy Weaver Family,” a reporter for the Spokesman-Review at the time of the siege: The entire thing is vivid in some ways, and watching the PBS miniseries really brought the whole thing back. A few things pop out: the anger and fear at the roadblock — hundreds of state and federal agents and angry protesters, including some skinheads and others who seemed to want to spark more violence. There were times when it felt like something awful was going to happen. And the day the standoff ended, when a few of us reporters were taken up to the cabin. There were federal agents wandering around, and maybe I’m reading too much into their faces, but I wondered later if they were thinking what I was thinking, that this plywood cabin wasn’t the “compound” that officials had talked about, that this had all gotten so horribly out of hand, that it was too much for, as Sara Weaver would say, “one family.” I don’t know that it’s something I learned, but something I’ve observed over the years is how our political disunity is more than just disagreeing over whether abortion should be legal or how much money teachers should make. We are at a place now where the right and left in this country don’t even see the same reality, can’t even find a common set of facts. Ruby Ridge showed what can happen when the middle ground loses its purchase, when sides dehumanize one another, when paranoia and blunt force take the place of basic humanity.
I have many vivid memories of the siege. As a reserve Bonners Ferry police officer sworn in three days before, I was among the first to help block Ruby Creek Road shortly after the marshals reported the firefight. As the only reporter to sit down with the family prior to the siege, I remember sitting with the surviving family dog, who was tied to a tree at the base of their road and so grateful for the attention. I remember watching the sniper teams walk by as they changed shifts, how fast “Federal Way” transformed from an empty meadow to the second biggest city in Boundary County and laughing when someone posted the cardboard sign to a fence on the road in. Young agents stuck for hours at a time, ear glued to a telephone on the end of an open line to Washington, D.C., with no one, not even the agents in charge, able to make but the simplest decision, and even then, nearly every federal decision made being wrong. I remember the anguish of many of those agents, worried about their families on the east coast facing a major hurricane while they were on a hill in Idaho. Helping carry the body bag holding Samuel Weaver, the 11-year-old boy who so impressed me once the family adjusted to my presence, to the helicopter for the flight off the hill, thinking how small and light he was, of the feeling that went through the crowd gathered at the roadblock when news broke that Vicki Weaver was dead. Looking back, what strikes me most is how quickly mistrust on both sides so quickly and tragically escalated, how such trivial actions blew so insanely out of proportion: Randy Weaver, a cold-blooded Green Beret killer with the hate and the know-how to pose a lethal threat to the might of the federal government. A small wooden shack transformed into a fortress, an idyllic meadow into an armed federal compound overnight. How easily the scenario was repeated just months later in Waco, and how easily it could, to this day, be repeated again.
White supremacy vs. white nationalsm
An Op-Ed by Ben Olson Reader Staff
In the wake of the tragedy at the Unite the Right demonstration in Charlottesville, there has been an attempt by some to redefine the term “white nationalism” into something innocuous and separate from white supremacism. Here’s what the terms mean. Their definitions haven’t changed.
Remembering Ruby Ridge A rare exclusive interview with E. Michael Kahoe, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison for obstruction of justice after Ruby Ridge E. Michael Kahoe
A racist ideology that believes the white race is superior and should ultimately control all other races. Proponents of white supremacy often attempt to back up their beliefs with pseudoscience that reaffirms the idea that different races are genetically disposed to particular traits or behavior. White supremacists also believe that white people should be the primary beneficiaries of political, economic and social policies.
A version of white separatism that believes in a country “built by and for white people,” as Mark Potok with the Southern Poverty Law Center told CNN. According to the SPLC website: “White nationalist groups espouse white supremacist or white separatist ideologies, often focusing on the alleged inferiority of nonwhites. Groups listed in a variety of other categories - Ku Klux Klan, neo-Confederate, neo-Nazi, racist skinhead, and Christian Identity - could also be fairly described as white nationalist. White nationalist groups espouse white supremacist or white separatist ideologies.” The argument that these two terms are somehow different is not only wrong, but despicable. Idaho is too great for hate. Call it out by its right name when you see it.
By Ben Olson, Reader Staff E. Michael Kahoe is the former head of the FBI’s violent crimes section and a 27year veteran of the Bureau. In 1997, Kahoe was sentenced to 18 years in prison for obstruction of justice. It was found that Kahoe destroyed an after-action memo on Ruby Ridge and then lied about it. He spoke to the Reader via telephone last week. His responses have been lightly edited for space. It was a total screw up on the part of the federal government going back a long way. I have a lot of sympathy for (Weaver). ... They trumped that whole thing up with the sawed-off shotgun. It’s horrible what they did, I think. ... I think it started to go wrong when we created BATF. They started looking around for things to do. They came up with this, the sawed-off shotgun stuff. They wanted to get into domestic terrorism. That’s what they needed to get into. They didn’t have any jurisdiction in domestic terrorism. They thought Weaver would be an informant and get them into the Aryan Nations. It didn’t happen and they bailed on it. The poor Marshals got stuck with it and lost a guy. (When I first heard of this) I was in D.C. at our HQ. It was getting close to quitting time. (The “red line” phone rang). It was a fellow named Larry Potts, the assistant director of the FBI at that time. He said, “Do you know anything about a U.S. marshal and a couple other people being killed on top of a mountain in northern Idaho?” I said this is the first I’d heard about it. He said, “Start finding out about it. ... Looks like it’s going to be a big deal.” I got on the phone started calling around. Sure enough, it was a big deal. There were a bunch of things that could’ve been done differently. We never even had to go up that mountain. We could’ve just waited. Randy would’ve come down that mountain
one of these days. ... The plan was, after the BATF thing went away, there was a plan to dismiss the indictment against Randy Weaver - to publicly dismiss it. Get a lot of the information out there on the press. ... I thought hell, this is a pretty good plan. They dismiss indictment, Randy comes down off mountain, they re-indict him, then they arrest him. No big deal. But for some reason, the U.S. attorney said “That would be deceitful, we can’t do that.” That didn’t make a lot of sense to me. It just seemed like a tragic loss of life for something that could’ve been handled a bunch of different ways. Soon after Ruby Ridge, there were a couple of internal inquiries. They all ended with, “Nobody did anything wrong.” Of course that’s how they ended. I think Congress jumped into it and said, you can’t do this, you have to take another look. Once again, they said, “Nobody did anything wrong.” Finally, they did something, and this was the first time that I was ever asked about this memo, the after-action memo. And what happened with this was there were two people above me: Larry Potts and Danny Coulson. Both of these guys deferred on anything that had to do with the Rules of Engagement (ROE), which was the big deal. They were the ones who were making the decision about ROE. It came time for the after-action conference, and there was only one thing to be discussed at that and that was. It came time for the after-action conference. And everybody is there, the guys in the field are there waiting for this conference. And I’m there, and the guys who I worked with are there. Now Coulson calls in sick that day. And Potts walks into the meeting and says he’s got another meeting he has to go to and can’t go to this one. I don’t know what other meeting in the FBI is more important that day than Ruby Ridge. Now there’s nothing to discuss. The only people that can talk about the ROE are the two people that are not there. The guy in charge of Ruby Ridge – Gene Glenn, who I think is now passed away. Soon after the thing started, he brought up the ROE. He said, “Are we going to talk about ROE?” I said, “I don’t know anything about ROE. It wasn’t my deal. I wasn’t operational.” We wrote up a memo, which was nonsense. It had to be nonsense because there wasn’t anything to be talked about. The guy that wrote the memo, I sent it back to him and said “There’s nothing in here.” He said, “Of course, it was all nonsense. The two guys that had anything to contribute didn’t show up.” That was the first time that it hit me. I let the memo sit and eventually I threw it in the trash.
That was pretty unorthodox. Particularly on something like this. Something that the people above me were always asking about: “Where’s this memo?” The guy above me was Danny Coulson, which was the guy that bailed on the after-action. The guy above him was Larry Potts – the guy who bailed. What are they going to say? If I put in there what happened – we can’t write this memo because the guys who know about it didn’t show up for the conference. ... I think they were concerned with this ROE stuff, and they didn’t want that to come up. It was well after Ruby Ridge, when they had these internal inquiries to see what the hell happened. At one of these, they asked, “Where’s the memo for the after-action conference?” And once again it was the first time it hit me, I said, “I don’t remember” then I remembered that I threw it away, in the trash. And of course, that was pretty much it. I think they are the people that have to find somebody to blame for this thing. They’re looking for somebody. This memo really gave them that opportunity. Even though it was a big nothing. It didn’t contribute anything to the operation at all. It was just a big nothing. I pled to one count of obstruction of justice and initially thought, “Jesus, it can’t be too much here. If anybody reads this memo they’ll see it’s just nonsense.” But it turned out to be more than I thought. I was sentenced to 18 months in jail. I ended up serving a year and twenty days. ... I don’t want to be painted as a victim or a martyr. I was there. I did it. I’m not a victim, I’m not a martyr. I’m not going to say I am. I never lied. I never deceived anybody in anything. It is what it is. Somebody had to take the fall, that’s why they kept doing these inquiries over and over again. They said, “We gotta find something here. Then all of a sudden, they came up with this memo that I threw away. There are individuals who should’ve been charged, but I’m not going to tell you who. It shouldn’t have stopped at one – that’s all opinion and speculation. I have no real facts to support any of that. (Asked what he would do differently). I think I would’ve taken sick leave that day, too. I would’ve called in with the flu on the day of the after-action conference, too. This whole thing is politicians. Politicians came up with this ATF organization. It was a failure to begin with. I think now they switched it over to the DOJ, it used to be DO treasury. It was a disaster. I think I would’ve called in sick that day.
E. Michael Kahoe is currently working on a book about his experiences with Ruby Ridge. August 17, 2017 /
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[failure to appear] as a mistake ... I would have dismissed the indictment and the arrest warrant. ... Based on the information I had received including several written letters from Vicki Weaver, I was very confident that Randy Weaver had no intention of appearing before Judge Ryan in February or March. How else could the agents of ZOG be lured up the mountain for this apocalyptic shootout where the second coming of Christ would occur?” Randy Weaver testified he believed the date discrepancy was done on purpose; regardless, he no longer trusted the governmental system in the least, and had already determined he would not appear in court. For the next 16 months, the Weavers stayed on their property. In October 1991, the fourth Weaver child was born. Elisheba Weaver was born in a small outbuilding called the “birthing shed,” where Vicki and Sara would stay during their menstrual periods according to their understanding of Old Testament laws about cleanliness. Surveillance
In the quarter century since the incident, many have questioned the motives of the BATF and their decision to pursue an arrest for the firearms charge - which was a misdemeanor, not a felony. The U.S. Marshals Service, the enforcement arm of the federal court system, became involved, creating a “threat assessment” on Randy Weaver that included such items as unverified rumors that Randy Weaver was growing marijuana on his property and had been involved with bank robberies. These rumors were never proven true. The report also mentioned heavy-caliber guns mounted on tripods around the “compound,” a name that stuck in the media when referring to the Weaver property. The report also claimed Randy was a member of the Aryan Nations, that he had threatened the life of the president, and that he was likely to shoot officers on sight. These rumors also were later proved to be untrue. “The reason the federal government and specifically BATF went after Randy Weaver, well, some of it’s speculation, but the reason was that they wanted an informant,” said E. Michael Kahoe, a former FBI agent who was ultimately sentenced to 18 months in prison for obstruction of justice after destroying an internal critique and then lying about it to two sets of investigators. “The whole thing is tragic,” said Kahoe in an exclusive interview with the Reader. “When they couldn’t flip him … they turned it over to the U.S. Marshals Service. It’s a case of the BATF looking for a mission. … they trumped that whole thing up with the sawedoff shotgun. It’s horrible what they did, I think. Of course, I’m on the other side of it.” Despite the fact that many items in this report were proven false, it had the effect of painting Randy as a desperate, well-armed man who would be difficult to bring to justice. The marshals had the Weavers under 22 /
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The Newsweek cover from August 1995. surveillance. A family living nearby the Weaver cabin was convinced to help the Marshals monitor the actions of the Weavers. During spring 1992, in an effort to beef up surveillance to include electronic monitoring with cameras and other devices, Ron Evans, the chief deputy marshal of Idaho, petitioned Washington, D.C., for authorization to declare the case “major” and bring in high-tech surveillance equipment. In April, a six-man team of marshals and electronic surveillance specialists began setting up surveillance sites with video cameras on two sides of the Weaver cabin. A helicopter and Cessna airplane were later commissioned to make flyovers to obtain aerial photographs. From a makeshift HQ, the marshals would frequently scout the Weaver property, always armed and in full military camouflage, taking caution to avoid detection. The marshals began devising contingency plans to take Randy into custody with a minimal use of force. On Aug. 20, 1992, six U.S. marshals set out armed and in camo dress, and entered the Weaver property on what is still called only a “reconnaissance mission.” The Stand-Off
The marshals split into two teams. Marshals William Degan, Larry Cooper and Art Roderick comprised the forward team while Dave Hunt, Larry Thomas and an EMT named Frank Norris formed the other. The forward team took up position behind a big rock that marks the edge of the clearing where the Weaver’s cabin was built. According to trial testimony by Roderick, the marshals began throwing pebbles to “see if they could get the dog’s attention.” Marshal Cooper said in an interview in 2013 that the dog heard a car somewhere in the distance, and that’s what got its attention. However it happened, 14-year-old Sammy’s dog Striker began barking and
sniffing in the vicinity of the boulder where the marshals set up position. Randy, Kevin and Sammy ran toward the rock with their weapons: a 12-gauge shotgun, a .30-06 bolt action rifle and a .223 mini-14 respectively. Randy later wrote, “I didn’t have any idea what we were chasing, but I hoped it was a deer.” While Kevin and Sammy followed the dog down the logging road, Randy cut around the trail past the garden that met the road — a common hunting practice is to surround game and have one set of hunters drive the deer out of the woods while the other waited to make the shot. The marshals ran into the woods to an old logging road that encircled the property. Striker began chasing the group, which eventually fled to a place dubbed “the Y” where they took cover. Different versions of what occurred next came out in various court testimonies. “When I reached the first fork in the logging road, a very-well camouflaged person yelled ‘Freeze, Randy!’,” Randy wrote later. “I immediately said ‘Fuck you,’ and retreated 80 to 100 feet toward home. I realized immediately that we had run smack into a ZOG/New World Order ambush.” Striker came running to the Y area, followed by Sammy and Kevin. At this point, according to the findings of a Senate investigation committee, Marshal Roderick fired at the dog, although Marshals Cooper and Roderick both testified that Kevin Harris had fired first after they had identified themselves as U.S. Marshals. When Sammy saw Striker had been shot by Marshal Roderick, he yelled, “You shot Striker, you sonofabitch!” and fired his gun in the direction of the stand of trees where the shots originated. According to Kevin Harris’ testimony, Sammy was running up the trail away from the Marshals when another shot came from the woods, hitting him in the arm. Harris claims Sammy fell and got to his feet to continue running. Another burst of fire came from the trees. Sammy Weaver, shot in the back while running home, died. The Senate investigation committee concluded that the “evidence suggests, but does not establish, that the shot that killed Sammy Weaver was fired by DUSM Cooper.” Marshall Cooper also acknowledged that he shot Sammy in a later interview. Seeing Sammy fall, Harris fired into the bushes and believed that he had shot the person who had killed Sammy. Harris testified that the agents never identified
themselves as U.S. Marshals, nor did they have a warrant in their possession. Marshal Cooper claimed he did shout “Back off, U.S. Marshals,” in a later interview. William Degan, one of the most highly decorated officers in the U.S. Marshals Service, was found dead in the stand of trees where the forward group had hidden. It was concluded later that the shot by Harris was the one that killed Degan, though a jury later found that Harris acted in self-defense and acquitted him of the charges. “The competing versions of what happened at the Y were presented and argued during the trial,” wrote Howen. “I believe the surviving marshals, Larry Cooper and Art Roderick. There is one thing both versions agree on. When the shootout at the Y happened, Randy Weaver was bookin’ it for the cabin looking out for number 1, leaving a 14-year-old boy and a young man with the mentality of a 13-year-old to shoot it out with the hated ZOG agents.” Randy later testified in court that he wasn’t aware how close Sammy and Kevin were, and that he was shouting for them to get home. Only Kevin made it back. This is the end of Part One of the Stand-Off at Ruby Ridge: 25 Years Later. With a 14-year-old boy, the family dog and a respected U.S. Marshal dead, what had begun as a simple failure to appear in court had now evolved into an incident that would captivate the nation for the next ten days. Next week, learn about the next tragedy of the stand-off involving the death of Vicki Weaver, the efforts that were taken to bring Randy off the mountain, and the trial that ultimately led to the acquittal of murder charges for both Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris.
You know what would be the most terrifying thing that could ever happen to a flea? Getting caught inside a watch somehow. You don’t even care, do you.
STAND-OFF AT RUBY RIDGE
ATER L S R A E Y 25 Part 2
Vicki Weaver walks on her property on Ruby Ridge in this federal government surveillance photo. Public domain image. By Ben Olson Reader Staff Editor’s Note: Last week, we gave an overview of the lead-up and the first day of the Stand-Off at Ruby Ridge, which took place 25 years ago this week. In Part two, we’ll focus on the duration of the stand-off. Next week, we’ll finish this three-part series with the trial of Randy Weaver and the aftermath of Ruby Ridge. The Rules of Engagement
At the end of day one of the Stand-Off at Ruby Ridge, 14-yearold Sammy Weaver, U.S. Marshal William Degan and the family dog Striker were dead. When the shooting commenced, the second U.S. Marshal Service team at the staging area was given the impression that a gun battle raged in the woods with agents pinned down by gunfire. The feds began evacuating residents from their homes in the area to a roadblock set up at the nearby Ruby Creek bridge. Marshal David Hunt made a series of phone calls to Washington, D.C. explaining that the Marshals had been ambushed and fired upon. Military equipment and federal agents began congregating almost immediately. The FBI assembled its Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) led by Richard Rogers. Federal agents were called in from regional offices. The Idaho National Guard was called up to offer support. Before the end of the day,
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Gov. Cecil Andrus had declared a state of emergency. While flying from D.C. to Idaho, Rogers drafted the Rules of Engagement (ROE) for the incident. The report initially read: “If any adult in the area around the cabin is observed with a weapon after the surrender announcement had been made, deadly force could and should be used to neutralize the individual. If any adult male is observed with a weapon prior to the announcement, deadly force can and should be employed, if the shot can be taken without endangering any children.” Over the years, criticism has been leveled at the FBI for this unprecedented handling of the ROE, which included the term “deadly force can and should be deployed.” FBI deputy assistant director Danny Coulson received the operations plan but ultimately did not approve of it because it lacked a negotiations option, according to a report compiled by the task force. “Thus,” a later Senate investigation report concluded, “(Coulson) never saw or reviewed the Rules of Engagement in the plan which appeared after the section in which a negotiations strategy should have appeared ... Since there is no written record of specifically what version of the Rules that FBI headquarters approved, we cannot confidently say that the word ‘should’ was approved by FBI headquarters at any time.” It is this point of the ROE that affected the outcome of the events
that followed — resulting in the death of one more person, as well as the imprisonment of one FBI agent for obstruction of justice. “The two worst guys (in this incident) are the two who authorized/signed off on the ‘shoot to kill orders’ and then orchestrated a cover up to preserve their seven figure incomes in Washington, D.C. post-government service,” wrote federal prosecutor for the FBI, Ron Howen in an exclusive interview with the Reader. “Subordinates erased the SIOC logs and shredded the documents/reports that linked them to those orders. And then the subordinates ‘fell on their swords’ to protect them.” One FBI agent who “fell on his sword” was E. Michael Kahoe, who was reached for comment via telephone. It is one of the first times Kahoe has talked to the press in 25 years. Kahoe said in an interview that he attended an “after-action” meeting where his higher-ups Danny Coulson and Larry Potts both declined to appear. Viewing the memo as “nonsense,” Kahoe destroyed it, saying it was an attempt to “protect himself.” It was the destruction of this memo that led to Kahoe serving over a year in prison. Day Two
Toward nightfall of day one, after Kevin Harris had notified the Weaver family that Sammy had been killed, Randy, Vicki and Kevin went down the path toward the Y and found Sammy’s body.
According to Weaver’s testimony, they brought the body to the birthing shed, cleaned it off and wrapped it in a sheet. They left it in the birthing shed for the time being, electing to worry about burial at a later time. While most outside of the Weavers and most likely the U.S. Marshals didn’t know that Sammy had been killed, reports of gunfire and a federal agent shot down began to filter throughout the media and the small community. A small crowd of neighbors and onlookers began gathering at the roadblock on the bridge. As the day wore on, more arrived at the roadblock, some shouting at the vehicles being allowed through, demanding information. Local newspaper reporters in Bonners Ferry, Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene were soon joined by reporters from Spokane, Boise and the wire services. TV trucks arrived on the scene and extended their remote satellite antennas. Rogers, the head of the Hostage Rescue Team, deployed his forces with silenced weapons and camouflage to block possible escape routes, set up observation posts and establish sniper positions. On the hillside to the north about 200 yards from the cabin, the Sierra 4 sniper team took position. The team consisted of West Point graduate Lon Horiuchi, HRT’s top sniper, and Dale Monroe, his spotter, with what the senate report later criticized as, “virtual shoot-on-sight orders.”
Around 6 p.m., Randy, Kevin and 16-year-old Sara ventured out of the cabin to visit Sammy’s body in the birthing shed. Randy and Kevin were carrying rifles, but Sara was unarmed, according to her testimony. As Randy reached for the door of the shed, a shot rang out. A bullet ripped through the flesh under Randy’s arm. The three immediately ran toward the cabin. “I ran up to my dad and tried to shield him and pushed him toward the house,” Sara later told the Spokesman-Review. “If they were going to shoot someone, I was going to make them shoot a kid.” Howen interpreted the first shot by Horiuchi as a defensive move by the sniper team: “(Horiuchi) fired the first shot at Randy Weaver when Randy grabbed the side of the ‘birthing shed’ to steady his aim to shoot into the bubble canopy of the helicopter flying overhead. ... Lon shot instinctively without being able (to) properly set up and very quickly to save the lives of those in the helicopter.” Howen pointed out that FBI shooting protocol established that it may use deadly force when “your life or the life of a third party are endangered. Once you use or attempt to use deadly force under this shooting policy, you continue the engagement until the person surrenders, throws down their weapon or is killed.” Then-FBI Director Louis Freeh testified later that Horiuchi fired on Weaver because he “observed one
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Remembering Ruby Ridge
A rare interview with Ron Howen, the federal prosecutor for the Randy Weaver trial
Ron Howen was the federal prosecutor for the FBI in the Randy Weaver trial. He is currently working as a public defender. This exclusive interview with the Reader was lightly edited for space. Because of his involvement with prosecuting neo-Nazis/ Aryan Nations/white supremacists, Ron asked that he not be photographed.
go through with or make the introduction. Had the introduction been successful, any thoughts of prosecuting of Randy Weaver would have faded into the background. The successful introduction of the undercover agent into the Montana group was far more important. The decision to prosecute Randy Weaver for the “confidence” firearms buys was part of a policy decision. It became the policy of the US Attorneys Office (USAO) Idaho to vigorously prosecute those individuals or groups associated with or part of the Aryan Nations/Richard Butler’s group that commit federal crimes...
SPR: Can you explain your role in the Randy Weaver trial?
SPR: Were you surprised when the case against Randy Weaver fell apart?
Ron Howen: I was assigned the initial firearms case against Randy Weaver by the United States Attorney for the District of Idaho in 1992. Since 1984, I had been assigned to handle or participate in the white supremacy/Aryan Nation/neo-Nazi prosecutions occurring in whole or in part in the District of Idaho. My initial assignment involved a transfer from the District of Idaho to the Western District of Washington in 1984-1985 as part of a trial team of 5 other Assistant United States Attorney’s. This case involved the investigation and prosecution of a group known as the Bruderschweigen (Silent Brotherhood) or the Order. I ended being tasked with most of the criminal acts of the Order in Idaho and Montana for that prosecution. ... My role in the Weaver/Harris trial was to prepare the case for trial and actually try the case with my trial partner, Kim Lindquist. In essence, it was my case.
RH: I was surprised by two matters that in my mind led to the acquittals. First, the efforts of the FBI at the supervisory level from the early days of the standoff through the end of the trial to obstruct justice by refusing to turn over documents/ reports to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Such documents/reports were relevant to the prosecution and defense of Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris in discovery particularly constitutionally required disclosure of exculpatory and impeaching evidence. Many of these documents/reports were an embarrassment to supervisory agents involved in the Weaver/Harris case and the FBI generally. I spent way too much time fighting with DOJ and the FBI to compel the FBI to turn over crucial, relevant documents and reports than trial preparation. In particular, who authorized and signed off on the “shoot to kill” orders that the scout/snipers were given? I spent much of my time between the Indictment and through the trial using every tool I knew to extract documents/reports from the FBI that were crucial to my case and to the defense of Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris. BATF and the U.S. Marshals Office were very different. I could not ask for more complete cooperation and assistance. Their transparency and honesty stood in stark contrast to the efforts that some people at the supervisory level at the FBI went to protect nameless, faceless people who did not want their actions see the light of day. Second, the “fourth class” mailing and contents from the FBI toward the end of the trial was the biggest torpedo below the waterline from which the ship could not recover. I had to stand there in open court and take it publicly from Gerry and David for these nameless, faceless people. I wish
Ron Howen By Ben Olson Reader Staff
SPR: Going into the case, what were your first impressions? My first impression of the Randy Weaver firearms case was that it wasn’t going to be a prosecution at all. Bureau of Alcohol and Firearms (BATF) was trying to get an introduction through Randy Weaver via their undercover agent at the Aryan Nations into another more violent group believed to be forming in western Montana. BATF wanted the introduction by Randy Weaver into this new group far more than any future prosecution. Plans were made to surveille and record the entire trip and then leave Randy Weaver in the background. But just before the trip was to begin, Randy Weaver accused the undercover agent of being a “fed” and refused
I knew who sent the “fourth class” mailing, why and for what purpose. I’ve chewed on that for 25 years. SPR: Looking back on the situation now, would you do anything different in your capacity as a federal prosecutor? RH: ...First, I would [have] gone after the FBI earlier and harder for their repeated failure to turn over reports and documents relevant to the case. I thought they would come around in a couple of weeks or months. I was wrong. Second, I should have told Judge Lodge, Gerry Spence, Chuck Peterson, David Nevin and Ellie Matthews in January 1993 at one of our pre-trial conferences that I suspected that the FBI was intentionally withholding documents/reports relevant to the trial and had been doing so for the past six months. I was persuaded not to. I regret to this day not having the courage of my convictions to do so. SPR: Has the case affected your own career as a lawyer? RH: The Weaver/Harris case was obviously the end of my career as a federal prosecutor. You don’t make enemies by defying the FBI or DOJ without consequences. You don’t testify under oath in an internal investigation by OPR against these types of people at the highest levels in Washington, D.C. ... It did not, however, affect my career as a lawyer. No bar complaint was made against me by Judge Lodge or the defense team for my actions in the preparation and trial of the Weaver/ Harris case. ... My job as an AUSA took its toll on me personally and professionally. Ultimately, it cost me a marriage and in part, the life of my son by suicide... SPR: At one point during court, you rose to argue against the dismissal of all charges and said, “I’m sorry, judge, I can’t continue.” You then left the courtroom and didn’t return. What happened during this moment? RH: The short answer was that I “hit the wall” in marathon-running terms. In my judgment, we needed at least four prosecutors to properly present the case when it became apparent we would be facing four defense attorneys. I had initially decided to try the case by myself when my “little voice/internal alarm” started going off
during and immediately after the standoff. ... I couldn’t ask anyone else to put their career on the line and warned them off particularly when it became apparent to me that someone very high up in FBI/DOJ land had authorized what Gerry Spence later fairly accurately stated were “shoot to kill orders.” As I recall, these orders green lighted FBI agents to shoot any male outside the house with a firearm. These orders were not discussed with me, the U.S. Attorney, Maurie Ellsworth or the First Assistant, Marc Haws. They were contrary to standard FBI shooting protocols and unconstitutional. They were given secretly to the scout/snipers and the rest of the Hostage Rescue Team during the standoff. But I was ultimately persuaded to take on a trial partner from within the office. Kim Lindquist’s fearlessness and willingness to take the FBI and DOJ on was remarkable and appreciated, but ultimately, equally suicidal. And in my personal life, I was also dealing with difficult marital and parental issues. By the end of the trial, I had worked the Weaver and Harris case for ten months straight. It was exhausting physically and professionally. By May and June, I was working seven days a week 16-20 hours a day. I stopped running and working out to devote all my time to the case and to the memory of William Degan, Sammy Weaver and Vicki Weaver. I was skipping meals or eating very little. I practically lived in my office. As a result, I lost close to 40 pounds by the time of the JOA motions. The fourth class mailing was “the straw the broke my back”. It was clear that someone was directly trying to sabotage the case (and my career). I had to publicly disclose the documents in the fourth class mailing and deliver them to Judge Lodge and defense counsel. These documents clearly established Rule 16 and Jencks Act discovery violations as well as constitutional discovery violations (Brady/Giglio). I had to sit there and take it from defense counsel in open court. It was not the time or the place to blame someone else. It was my responsibility. … I tried to complete the trial regardless, but I could not. I had reached the limit of my professional, physical, mental and emotional endurance. Per my doctor’s orders, I was not permitted to continue with the case. Kim Lindquist completed the case in my absence. I’m told he did an incredible job given the circumstances particularly during final argument... August 24, 2017 /
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of the suspects raise a weapon in the direction of a helicopter carrying other FBI personnel.” But numerous federal officials testified during the trial that no helicopters were flying in the vicinity of the Weavers’ cabin at the time of the FBI sniping. In the cabin, Vicki had heard the sniper shot. She ran to the kitchen door with the infant Elisheba in her arms and held the door open for Randy, Kevin and Sara. As they tumbled into the cabin, a shot hit Vicki in the temple, went through her mouth and tongue, through her jawbone and severed her artery. Vicki fell to the floor. Kevin, who was struck by the same bullet as Vicki, suffered wounds in his arm and chest cavity. Vicki bled to death , still holding her baby in her arms. Eleven Days
After Vicki’s death, the stand-off lasted another nine days. FBI agents entered the birthing shed on Day Three and found Sammy’s body. News was released the next day that Sammy had been killed, as well as Marshal Degan. Kevin Harris was formally charged in federal court for the murder of Marshal Degan and Randy Weaver was charged with assaulting a federal officer. The mood at the roadblock grew darker. Several carried hand-painted signs critical of the federal government. Some children at the roadblock wore papers on their chest with targets on them, reading, “Are we next?” It was a colorful group at the roadblock. While most were concerned neighbors and citizens, there were also organized “patriot” groups and some skinheads wearing swastikas and drawing the attention from both the media and the crowd. John Trochmann, the founder of the Militia of Montana movement arrived with his brother and nephew. On Day Eight, Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler showed up at the roadblock. By Day Six of the stand-off, the crowd at the roadblock was easily estimated in the hundreds. Nobody knew that Vicki had been killed, but some had suspected as much. Morale was low. It was on this day that a controversial figure showed up at the scene. Lt. Col. James “Bo” Gritz, the flamboyant former Green Beret who became famous for his attempts to locate and rescue American prisoners of war in Vietnam, began acting as a “citizen mediator” between the federal government and Randy Weaver. Known for his Christian beliefs and “patriot activism,” Gritz had run for President of the U.S. with the Populist Party under the slogan “God, Guns and Gritz.” Gritz finally succeeded in gaining an audience with the FBI agents in charge. He convinced them to drive him to the cabin, where he held a conversation with Randy through the plywood of the cabin. Gritz said Randy wasn’t ready to leave the cabin yet, but that he would be willing to negotiate with Gritz. The mood intensified when Gritz walked down the hill and announced to the crowd 18 /
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that Vicki Weaver had been killed. It was the first anyone outside the cabin heard that she had been killed. Over the next two days, Gritz worked as a go-between, gaining admittance to the cabin at one point to discuss the situation with Randy, and reporting on the condition of the gunshot wounds that Kevin and Randy had both suffered. On Sunday, day 10, Gritz convinced Randy to let him and his associate Jack McLamb take Kevin Harris out of the cabin to receive medical attention. Harris was flown to Spokane to receive treatment, where he remained under guard for two weeks. On Monday, Aug. 31, Day Eleven of the stand-off that had dominated the national news cycle, Gritz entered the cabin one last time and was finally able to convince the Weavers that it was time to come down the mountain. Sara cleaned Randy’s wound one last time and put clean clothes on baby Elisheba. Randy, Sara and Rachel put down their guns and cleaned up the cabin a little. The four surviving Weavers walked out of the cabin together to a helicopter waiting nearby. Randy hugged his daughters and laid in a stretcher so an FBI medic could examine him. The helicopter took him to Sandpoint Airport, where a waiting FBI jet flew him to Boise where he could visit the hospital before being booked in Ada County Jail. Next week, this three-part series on the Stand-Off at Ruby Ridge will conclude with the aftermath, including the trial of Randy Weaver. Special thanks to Trish Gannon, who helped edit and fact-check this series of articles. Sara Weaver was contacted, but declined comment for this story.
Vicki Weaver stands with Sammy, left, Rachel, center and Sara Weaver at a little red house on Deep Creek they rented from time to time. Photo courtesy Sandpoint Magazine.
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STAND-OFF AT RUBY RIDGE R EARS LATE 25 Y Part 3: Pre-Trial
One of the Weaver daughters sits on a rope swing with the cabin on Ruby Creek behind her. Photo courtesy Sara Weaver. By Ben Olson Reader Staff Editor’s Note: In the first two installments of this series, we covered the events leading up to the Stand-Off at Ruby Ridge that occurred near Naples, Idaho in Aug. 1992. In this third piece, we will cover the preliminary trial activity of Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris. There will be a part four next week highlighting the trial, and quite possibly a part five dealing with the aftermath of this incident. One thing rings true about the story of Ruby Ridge: It’s a complicated story that requires a lot of space to tell. Part two left off with Randy Weaver surrendering to authorities and coming down off the mountain while Kevin Harris remained in custody while being treated for a gunshot wound. Vicki Weaver, 14-year-old Sammy Weaver, U.S. Marshall Degan and family dog Striker had all been killed. Assignment of Lawyers After the 11-day stand-off at Ruby Ridge that had captivated the nation, the lead up to the trial of Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris had generated a considerable amount of attention. A federal 18 /
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grand jury had indicted Kevin Harris for the murder of Marshal William Degan and Randy Weaver for aiding and abetting in Degan’s death. Weaver was also still charged with failing to appear for his original court date in regard to the original illegal firearms charge that led to the events that unfolded at the Weaver cabin in August. Randy had received a commitment from noted lawyer Gerry Spence to be his defense attorney. Spence — a flamboyant and arduous trial attorney — was famous for never having lost a criminal case either as a prosecutor or a defense attorney. In his book “From Freedom to Slavery: The Rebirth of Freedom in America,” Spence later reflected on the initial response he received after agreeing to take Randy’s case. “The blood hadn’t cooled on Ruby Hill before the national media announced that I had taken the defense of Randy Weaver,” Spence wrote. “Then all hell broke loose.” Spence said he had gotten blowback from all over the map, from strangers to his own family. His sister decried him for defending a “racist.” Letters to the editor flooded into newspapers that “expressed their disappointment that I would lend my services to a person with Weaver’s beliefs.”
Spence wrote in a letter to a friend, who had implored him to withdraw from the case: “...if I were to withdraw from the defense of Randy Weaver ... I would be required to abandon my belief that this system has any remaining virtue. I would be no more at fault than the federal government that has murdered these people, for I have not been trained to murder but to defend.” While Randy was in good hands with Spence, Kevin Harris didn’t have a lawyer yet, nor could he afford one. Boise-based defense attorney David Nevin was asked by the judge conducting the preliminary hearing if he would serve as Harris’ court-appointed attorney. Nevin, a self-proclaimed “yellow-dog Democrat,” had mixed feelings. He had been on vacation during the standoff, so he missed a lot of the news barrage. He said his general understanding was that a family with “unusual white separatist” beliefs had held off government agents for awhile before being captured. Nevin flew to Spokane to meet with Harris the day Randy came down off the mountain. Harris was in a hospital room guarded by U.S. Marshals. Nevin said later that after meeting Harris and spending time talking with him, he
had a hard time believing Harris was a cold-blooded murdered. He decided to take the case, despite his initial reluctance. U.S. Attorney Ron Howen was named as the federal prosecutor to represent the federal government. Howen had made a name for himself after participating in numerous cases involving violent white supremacist groups such as the Bruderschweigen (Silent Brotherhood) and The Order, which carried out several bombings in the Coeur d’Alene area and even murdered a Jewish Denver talk radio host. “My role in the Weaver/Harris trial was to prepare the case for trial and actually try the case with my trial partner, Kim Lindquist,” wrote Howen in an email interview with the Reader. “In essence, it was my case.” Arraignment On Tuesday, Sept. 1, 1992, mere days after his son and wife had been killed, Randy appeared in federal court in Boise accompanied by his attorney Spence and Boise attorney Chuck Peterson, who served as co-counsel. Weaver pleaded not guilty to the original charge of selling illegal weapons and failure to appear. Howen
tacked on an additional charge of assault on a federal officer, for which Weaver would plead at a later date. Both Spence and Randy presented written statements to the court and the press after the arraignment. Spence’s statement said while he and Randy “do not see eye to eye on many issues,” he felt compelled to take the case because “in America, all of our religious and political beliefs are protected by the Constitution. If this were not so, we have lost what is most sacred in America.” Randy’s statement acknowledged many of the same points, emphasizing that, “People ought not be murdered by their own government. This case must stand for something. Otherwise my darling Vicki and my dear son Sam have died for nothing.” The preliminary hearing began Sept. 10, 1992. Weaver and Harris both pleaded not guilty to all the various charges against them, which included murder, aiding and abetting murder, conspiracy and assault. The trial was set to begin Oct. 26, but was later pushed back to February 1993. Meanwhile, Howen filed an amended 18-page indictment on Nov. 19 that named Randy
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Weaver, “defendant and co-conspirator,” as a leader of the group of criminals, Vicki Weaver as an “unindicted co-conspirator,” and Kevin Harris as “a member of the conspiracy.” Howen wrote in the indictment that “it was part of the conspiracy” that the Weavers had left Iowa and moved to Idaho “in their belief and prediction that a violent confrontation would occur with law enforcement involving a ‘kill zone’ surrounding their property.” Howen argued that it was part of the conspiracy that the Weavers bought the property on Ruby Creek Road and built the cabin as an attempt to form a group opposed to the New World Order. Howen asserted that the Weavers had isolated themselves, sold illegal firearms, bought legal firearms and that they “precipitated a violent confrontation with federal law enforcement officers by refusing the requests, pleas and entreaties of federal, state or local law enforcement agents and officers, relatives and friends to peacefully surrender and appear for trial.” “Based on the information I had received including several written letters from Vicki Weaver, I was very confident that Randy Weaver had no intention of appearing before Judge Ryan in February or March (to answer for illegal firearms charges,)” Howen wrote in a recent Reader interview. “How else could the agents of ZOG (Zionist Occupation Government) be lured up the mountain for this apocalyptic shootout where the second coming of Christ would occur?” Spence argued in court that, “Many things in the indictment have nothing to do with the case and have only to do with laying a foundation for the prosecution to introduce evidence that’s prejudicial in the case and that the prosecution knows is improper and prejudicial. They charge him with being part of the Aryan Nations movement and that raises the specter that this man is being prosecuted for what are allegedly his beliefs rather than for the crimes that he allegedly committed.” Motions to Dismiss and a Damning Memorandum In January 1993, Spence and Peterson filed a motion to dismiss the indictment and to remove Ron Howen from the case. The defense lawyers claimed that since Howen had been present during the siege, and had even assisted in the search for evidence, he could be called as a witness. Spence and Peterson filed a lengthy memorandum in support of the motion that included the Weaver family’s version of events, as well as making the case that the U.S. Marshals, not the Weavers, were the ones who provoked the confrontation that led to the deaths. The memo said the team of Marshals, “in preparation for this alleged ‘reconnaissance mission’ went to a shooting
range where they spent several hours sighting-in their guns.” After months of surveillance in which the marshals observed the Weavers regularly carrying weapons, Spence said the Weavers had always confronted people on their property nonviolently: “In face of this history, the marshals’ apparent strategy was to engage the Weavers while they were armed which, even in the face of their alleged orders not to engage the Weavers, would provide the marshals cause to use deadly force against the Weavers.” The memorandum went on to discuss the incident at the “Y” where the family dog Striker was shot, followed by 14-yearold Sammy Weaver and U.S. Marshal William Degan. “[Marshal] Roderick now admits that his team was throwing rocks toward the Weaver house, thus taunting the dogs,” the memo said. “Later, contrary to these admissions by Roderick, Marshal Jack Cluff of Moscow, Idaho, told the press that the Weavers had loosed their dogs on an approaching vehicle.” Marshal Art Roderick did, indeed, admit during grand jury testimony that his team had thrown rocks at the family dog. The memo concluded that when the dog began chasing the marshals, Kevin and Sammy started chasing the dog, hoping it was on the trail of a game animal. The dog passed Marshal Larry Cooper, who elected not to fire, admitting in his grand jury testimony that if he killed the dog, “I believed it would precipitate a firefight.” “Since Cooper had not shot the dog as planned,” the memo continued, “Roderick now fired. The bullet shattered the dog’s spine and the dog let out a yelp. ... Thus a confrontation, contrary to the Marshals’ orders, was fully assured - indeed, a forbidden confrontation with one of the Weaver children.” The memo went on: “To the horror of ... Sammy Weaver, he saw a man in a full camouflage suit brutally shoot his dog. Roderick testified up to that point that no one he could identify had fired at the officers. Hence by Roderick’s admission, the first shot was fired by Roderick when he shot the family pet.” According to the memo, when Sammy saw his dog, he yelled and fired his gun in Roderick’s direction. The marshals opened fire with their automatic weapons. Harris testified that he saw Sammy running toward home with his back to the officers, the child crying out in pain having been hit in the arm by the marshal’s fire. Then, Harris testified, Randy was heard calling for his son to come home. Harris said Sammy called back, “I’m
The Weaver family photographed recently: Randy, Sara, Elisheba and Rachel. Photo courtesy of Sara Weaver. coming, Dad.” There was a brief lull, said Harris, followed by another shot. Sammy cried out and then there was silence. “Seeing that Sammy had been shot and fearing for his own life, Harris opened fire in the direction of those who had been shooting from the bushes,” the memo said. “He believed he shot the officer who had been firing at Sammy.” The memo noted that by the time the exchange of shots had concluded, Kevin and Randy were back at the cabin, more than a quarter-mile from the marshals and out of sight from the “Y”: “The Marshals began to spread a false story concerning the incident, a story that would result in the infamous standoff at Ruby Ridge, the death of Vicki Weaver and the wounding of Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris.” In a Reader interview, Howen wrote, “The competing versions of what happened at the ‘Y’ were presented and argued during the trial. I believe the surviving Marshals, Larry Cooper and Art Roderick. There is one thing both versions agree on. When the shootout at the ‘Y’ happened, Randy Weaver was bookin’ it for the cabin looking out for #1 leaving a 13-year-old boy and a young man with mentality of a 13-year-old to shoot it out with the hated ZOG agents.” The memo prepared by the defense attorneys contended that Vicki’s death by FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi was based on “illegal” rules of engagement, contending that: “The FBI now faced a serious problem. They had killed an unarmed mother standing at the door with a baby in her arms. They had no warrant for Vicki ... Moreover, the FBI had discovered that Vicki had not been involved in the shooting at the “Y.” It appears, therefore, that after Vicki was shot, the officers realized they had no legal or moral justification for having killed Vicki. ... Since they had no right to shoot her, the FBI had no alternative but to later claim her death was an
accident. In the meantime the federal officers pretended they did not know they had killed a second member of the Weaver family.” This highly subjective memo was prepared by the defense attorneys in an attempt to persuade the judge to dismiss the indictment before the case ever came to trial. While the interpretation of the facts and events were disputed, later testimony during the trial would show that the basic facts used in the memo were accurately portrayed. After this memo was released to the media, U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge — who was scheduled to preside over the forthcoming trial — expressed concern that the release of these documents was a mistake because it compromised the privacy of grand jury witnesses. Howen filed a 97-page response to the defense motion, but the judge refused to release that document and further documents in the case to the media. Ultimately, Judge Lodge did not accept the defense motion to dismiss the lengthy indictment, although some language referring to Randy Weaver’s and Kevin Harris’ political and religious beliefs was removed from the indictment. Howen was retained as the lead prosecutor. Delays and legal wrangling pushed back the trial date until April 12, 1993. The headline on the front page of the April 11, 1993 Spokesman-Review was especially foretelling: “Feds to Face Tribulations in Weaver, Harris Trial.” The trial of the decade was about to begin. Next week, we’ll cover the trial of Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris. Special thanks to Ron Howen, who agreed to be interviewed on his role in the case, as well as Trish Gannon, who helped edit and fact-check the first two installments of this series. August 31, 2017 /
STAND-OFF AT RUBY RIDGE ER YEARS LAT 25
By Ben Olson Reader Staff Editor’s Note: This is the fourth of a five-part series on the stand-off at Ruby Ridge, which happened 25 years ago in North Idaho. In this installment, we’ll cover the trial of Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris. Readers who may have missed any of the previous articles can access the online Reader flip-page feature at www.SandpointReader.com. An Interesting Case
The federal courthouse in Boise was a bustling place on the morning of April 12, 1993. It would be another two years until the trial of O.J. Simpson set a new standard for media coverage, but the trial for Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris attracted reporting teams from all over the Northwest assigned full-time to the trial. Gerry Spence and Chuck Peterson represented Randy Weaver. David Nevin represented Kevin Harris. Ron Howen served as the federal prosecutor for the federal government and was assisted by Kim Lindquist. U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge presided over the case. The jury was selected on April 13. Of the seven women and five men, all were white and all had raised their hands when asked if they or their families owned guns. “This will probably be one of the most 16 /
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interesting cases you could be asked to sit on as jurors,” Judge Lodge told the newly selected jurors. Day One
Lead prosecutor Ron Howen presented a four-hour opening statement laced with efforts to prove conspiracy charges against Randy Weaver. “We need to go back to Iowa 1982, when the Weavers began believing in Christian Identity,” Howen told the court, before building a narrative that the “hate-filled” beliefs of the Weavers provoked a confrontation with government agents in order to validate those beliefs. Weaver’s attorney Gerry Spence argued the opposite point: that it wasn’t Randy Weaver who provoked the confrontation but the federal government. Spence claimed that Weaver broke no laws until he was entrapped into sawing off shotguns by an undercover informant. Spence also accused Howen of pushing too hard for the arrest of Weaver when they both knew the firearms charge against Weaver probably wouldn’t hold up in court. Nevin argued that his client, Kevin Harris, shot Marshal William Degan in self-defense after having been “ambushed and provoked” into a response after the killing of 14-year-old Sammy Weaver and the family dog Striker. The initial style and personalities of Howen and Spence set the stage for what
would be one of the most interesting trials of both of their careers. While Spence wore fringed suede jackets, cowboy boots and hat, Howen wore dark suits and dress shoes. Howen was focused, sometimes impatient. When emotions came into play, Howen often cut them off at the onset, even from his own witnesses. Spence rarely missed an opportunity to solicit an emotion from a witness. He even made himself the butt of jokes on occasion to score points with the jury Spence’s co-counsel, Chuck Peterson, often riddled hostile witnesses with barrages of questions, rolling his eyes or smirking at the jury to let them know just what he thought of the testimony. David Nevin, an experienced murder defense attorney, was a marked contrast to the flamboyant styles of Spence and Howen. As most of the attention was on Weaver, Nevin played a quieter role, persistently probing witnesses for inconsistencies. The prosecution’s first witness of Day Two was U.S. Marshall Larry Cooper, who (at the request of the defense and agreed to by the prosecution) testified wearing the full camouflage outfit including black ski mask that he had worn the day Sammy Weaver had been killed. He also carried a silenced weapon, claiming, “There was no specific reason we carried it; it was just there.” When asked about the incident at the “Y,” Marshal Cooper testified that the dog Striker came up to him, sniffed him and walked around him but did not attack as some
Part 4: The Trial
Randy Weaver stands before the door to his cabin and explains his movements during the trial. You can see a bullet hole in the lower right panel of glass in the door. Photo from government exhibit. versions of the story had claimed. Cooper testified that he had identified himself as a federal agent, whereupon Harris shot first and immediately killed Marshal Degan. Cooper testified that Harris and Sammy were standing side by side when he fired a three-shot burst from his weapon, and Harris, “dropped like a sack of potatoes.” Cooper said he didn’t shoot at Sammy because he could see he was a kid. Days Three, Four and Five
Upon cross examination, Cooper admitted that FBI special agent Greg Rampton had revealed during the grand jury hearing that Cooper was carrying the silenced weapon because Cooper had orders to lure the dogs and shoot them so the marshals could sneak up on the Weaver cabin. Cooper was also unable to explain how, if Kevin Harris fired the first shot killing Marshal Degan, there were seven spent shell casings from Degan’s gun next to Degan’s body. The next witness called was Rampton, who was one of the first agents on the scene after the initial shootout. Under cross-examination, Rampton reaffirmed what he had already claimed in grand jury testimony; that there was a plan for Cooper to lure the dogs toward him and shoot them. He
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also testified that after Striker was shot, he was left lying in the road and was run over repeatedly by passing vehicles. Photographs of Striker’s body were displayed for the jury, showing clearly that tire tracks had passed over him. The next witness called was a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) special agent named Herby Byerly, who had hired an undercover informant named Kenneth Fadeley to infiltrate the Aryan Nations and convert Randy Weaver into an informant. When court was about to adjourn for the day, Judge Lodge instructed the jury not to watch or listen to the news coverage of the day’s news, which was dominated by the burning of a compound owned by the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, in which 80 people were killed. As it turned out, several of the federal officers at Waco had also been at Ruby Ridge. Kenneth Fadeley testified that he had told Randy Weaver his name was “Gus Magisono,” and that he was a biker who dealt in illegal weapons. Fadeley testified that it had been difficult to convince Weaver to do anything illegal. He also testified he was promised a bonus if Weaver was convicted - a point that caused Spence to move for a mistrial, also arguing that Fadeley would in essence be a “contingency witness” because he had a personal interested in the outcome of the case. Spence’s request for a mistrial was based on the belief that the prosecution’s extensive questions of most of its witnesses asked about Randy Weaver’s political and religious beliefs. Judge Lodge denied the motions. The Second Week and Recess
The prosecution called BATF agent Byerly to the stand again to contradict Fadeley’s testimony that he had been promised a bonus if Weaver was found guilty. But, Byerly admitted that Howen had indirectly referred to a bonus in conversations with Fadeley. Byerly also acknowledged that in the government’s transcripts of a tape recording that captured Weaver talking with Fadeley, a section had been omitted where Randy had said, “You approached me and offered me a deal.” Spence claimed this was proof of entrapment, but Byerly said the omission was an error. Over the next few days, the prosecution centered their efforts on the actions involving Weaver’s initial arrest and failure to appear after his release on bail for the original firearms charge. Boundary County probation officer Karl Richins testified he Weaver had been sent a notice to appear that had the wrong date on it. When explaining this to Howen, Richins testified he was told by Howen to forget about it. After a short recess, U.S. Marshal Dave Hunt took the stand. Hunt was handed the Weaver case by Byerly after Weaver failed to appear in court for the initial firearms charge. Hunt explained the detailed 13-month surveillance effort that took place
before the stand-off. Hunt was also asked about a controversial threat profile he prepared on the Weavers in which he asserted that the Weavers were in cahoots with racist, rightwing groups such as the Aryan Nations and The Order. Spence objected repeatedly that Weaver was never a member of any such group and efforts to prove otherwise were an attempt to demonize his client. May 3 saw the first major setback for the prosecution. Judge Lodge noted that the prosecution had not yet shown that a conspiracy existed among the Weavers and that evidence of Kevin Harris’ role in the so-called conspiracy was especially slim. Howen considered the conspiracy charge vital in his ten-count indictment. Marshal Roderick’s Testimony
Marshal Art Roderick, who was stationed on the forward surveillance team with Marshals Degan and Cooper, took the stand and explained details about the surveillance effort. Nevin questioned Roderick about his constant use of the term “compound,” when referring to the Weaver cabin. On Day 19 of the trial, Michael Weland, a reporter from the Bonner County Daily Bee, took the stand. Weland had been the only media representative to interview Weaver prior to the stand-off. During his interview, conducted in May 1992, Weland talked with Randy Weaver about his political and religious beliefs. After the interview, Weland said he contacted the psychological profile division of the FBI and informed them that in his judgment, Vicki was a probable reason that Randy would refuse to come down, as Randy would never want to have been separated from her. The next day, the prosecution called Randy Weaver’s neighbor Terry Kinnison. Spence argued that there was “bad blood” between Randy and Kinnison, and sure enough, during his testimony, Kinnison said that Randy had sued him frivolously and cost him a lot of money. The prosecution then presented the 14 guns that had been seized from the Weaver cabin. Also seized were about 4,000 rounds of ammunition, most of it .22 caliber. Spence was concerned that by “parading” these guns in front of the jury, the prosecution was furthering their false narrative of the Weavers as violent people. Spence asked Agent Rampton if he also found the food that was stored under the cabin while searching for all the weapons. Spence then listed all the food: 60 cans of wheat, a bin of dried peas, 800 tins of dried food, 50 gallons of salt, 150 gallons of honey, 500 pound of flour and 1,200 tins of canned food. Spence argued that a large amount of ammunition was consistent with the family pattern of accumulating large quantities of supplies of all kinds. New Evidence Comes to Light
Top: Randy Weaver holds a picture of his wife and daughter at a press conference in 2007 in support of Ed and Elaine Brown, who were both convicted for not paying U.S. income tax. Photo from YouTube. Bottom: The Spokesman-Review headline immediately after the verdict acquitting Randy Weaver of most of the charges against him and all of the charges against Kevin Harris. Public Domain.
Judge Lodge suspended the trial on May 21 after defense lawyers learned the night before about testimony from Idaho State Police captain David Neal. Neal had arrived on the scene after the initial shootout and helped bring Cooper, Roderick and the body of Marshal Degan off the hill. In a preliminary interview, Roderick told Neal that he (Roderick) had fired the first shot, not Kevin Harris as Cooper and Roderick had both testified in court. Howen also told Judge Lodge some notes from an interview with Cooper on Aug. 25 after the shooting had gone missing. Howen said when he found the notes, he had put them on his desk and forgot about them until that Friday, when he gave a copy to the defense lawyers. In those notes, Calley wrote: “Next Cooper fired his second three-round burst during which time he saw Kevin Harris going up the trail toward the Weaver residence.” Calley’s notes contradicted Cooper’s testimony that Harris had “dropped like a sack of potatoes.” The question of who fired the first shot was the “watershed moment of the case,” according to Spence and Nevin. The defense lawyers accused Howen of purposely hiding evidence that would shore up the government’s case. Judge Lodge agreed to suspend the trial
until the following Monday to give the defense a chance to review the new evidence. “We are being ambushed,” said Spence to the Judge. “We may have further motions to dismiss based on prosecutorial misconduct.” After the recess, Roderick took the stand again and was grilled through an exact re-telling of the incident at the “Y.” Roderick insisted Harris shot first, killing Marshal Degan, and that Roderick then shot the dog. Spence brought up inconsistencies with Roderick’s testimony, namely that Roderick first testified he had shot the dog as it was running toward him, then later testifying he shot it in the “butt end,” which the autopsy confirmed was the case. The next FBI witnesses testified to various points about evidence handling and gathering. One such “magic bullet” as Spence said, appeared in various photographs facing one direction, in another photograph facing the other way, then it was removed, then brought back later and dropped in approximate locations when it had been found. Spence fumed at the court, saying, “I have been raising all kinds of unappreciated Cain in this case about the magic bullet. Today we are told that the photos we were given were reconstructed photos.” When FBI special agent Larry Wages confirmed that he, in fact, found the “magic
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bullet,” on Aug. 31. The moment he found the bullet, Wages said he was ordered out of the area as Randy and the girls were leaving the cabin, and that he didn’t have a photographer with him. Wages testified he picked up the bullet, put it in an evidence bag and carried it in his pocket for several hours before returning it to the scene where it had been found. Because he couldn’t remember which direction the bullet faced, he had it photographed at various angles. Howen was forced to acknowledge that he had known previously that some of the evidence collected had been reconstructed, but he reassured the court it had never been his intention to use the material as evidence. Rules of Engagement
On May 28, Duke Smith, associate director of the U.S. Marshals Service, testified extensively about the Rules of Engagement (ROE) for Aug. 22, the day Vicki Weaver was shot and killed. Smith testified that he and Richard Rogers had drafted the ROE while flying from Washington, D.C. to Idaho after a brief telephone conversation with a deputy who had not witnessed the incident at the “Y.” “We decided jointly at that point that the Rules of Engagement would be that any adult who was seen with a weapon would be considered subject to deadly force,” Smith told the court. “They had already demonstrated a willingness to kill one of our people.” Under cross-examination, Smith said he did not know Sammy Weaver had been killed prior to writing the ROE, nor had he talked to any of the marshals involved in the shootout. Smith also testified that he and three FBI agents had taken a helicopter up and circled near the Weaver’s neighbor’s house to familiarize themselves with the area. During previous grand jury hearings, FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi testified that he had fired the shots that killed Vicki Weaver and wounded Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris to protect the helicopter in which Smith was riding. However, Smith testified that the helicopter never actually flew north of the Weaver cabin, where Horiuchi said it had flown. On June 2, tactical EMT Frank Norris, who was with the Marshals on the first day of the conflict, testified the first shot sounded like
a quieter report than Kevin Harris’ .30-06 hunting rifle. This contradicted Cooper’s and Roderick’s testimony that Harris had fired first. Norris’ testimony largely squared with the series of events that Roderick fired first, killing the dog, followed by Sammy Weaver’s retaliatory shots. Then, Richard Rogers, the commander of the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, testified that Randy Weaver had joined Kevin Harris in chasing the Marshals through the woods near the “Y,” though no marshals involved said Weaver had chased them. Rogers also testified that he had been in the helicopter just before Vicki was shot. His version of the helicopter ride more resembled the sniper Horiuchi’s testimony, that it was north of the cabin where those in the cabin or yard could have conceivably shot at it. When asked about whether there was any attempt to communicate with the Weavers to surrender, Rogers testified that Horiuchi fired the shots before such an attempt was made. After Sammy and Vicki had been killed and Randy and Kevin had been wounded, Rogers testified that a hostage negotiator approached the Weaver cabin with a bullhorn and told the occupants inside that they were “not here to harm you.” The next witness was the sniper, Lon Horiuchi, who was escorted into court under armed guard. Spokesman-Review reporter Dean Miller described Horiuchi as, “a real piece of work.” Miller said Horiuchi was cold, unemotional and that his expression never changed during testimony. Horiuchi testified the ROE for this incident were unique, but he accepted them because, “The decision that we were in danger had already been made for us, prior to going up the hill.” Horiuchi then testified that after he was in position about 200 yards from the Weaver cabin, he observed two men, one armed with a rifle. He claimed the men were peering at the sky, “looking for the helicopter.” Horiuchi said he perceived either Kevin Harris or Randy Weaver positioning themselves for a shot at the helicopter. The individual then made a sudden movement the moment Horiuchi pulled the trigger. He thought he had wounded the target, but couldn’t say for sure. He then saw, a few seconds
later, a girl and two men running for the cabin. He led Kevin Harris by nine inches and squeezed the trigger just as the man crossed the front porch. Horiuchi acknowledged that he wasn’t supposed to fire into the cabin, but that he figured that shot would go off into the woods if he missed. “He was reaching with his left hand, trying to open the door or move someone out of the way when I took the shot,” Horiuchi said. “He appeared to flinch as soon as I pulled the trigger and then he disappeared inside the doorway. Immediately after that, I heard a female screaming for approximately 30 seconds, maybe longer... I was assuming she was screaming because Mr. Harris was hit.” Horiuchi testified that he didn’t know he missed Harris and struck Vicki with the bullet instead. The Fourth-Class Mailing
After Horiuchi left the court under armed guard, Howen turned over an inch-thick stack of documents to the defense. The documents were background materials on Horiuchi, including notes about his debriefings after the shootings of Vicki and Kevin. A month before, Judge Lodge had ordered the prosecution to find this material that had been gathered at FBI headquarters and turn it over to the defense, but agents in D.C. had sent the documents by fourthclass mail instead of overnight or even first class. “I have no explanation why these were not overnighted,” a red-faced Howen told the Judge. Spence pounced on the mistake, arguing to Judge Lodge that this was yet another instance of prosecutorial misconduct, bringing up the recreated photographs and evidence that was found by the prosecution and presented to the defense when the trial was almost half over. Judge Lodge agreed that the FBI’s response to the court order to produce the documents was “totally inexcusable and extremely poor judgment. The court is very upset about these things happening. It does appear it is somewhat of a pattern on the part of agencies outside the district of Idaho.” On Day 34 of the trial, in answer to charges of prosecutorial misconduct involving the fourthclass mailing of evidence, Judge Lodge made an unusual decision. As formal punishment for the delay in sending the background
information late, the court required the government to pay an amount equal to the cost of the Weaver and Harris defense attorneys for one day - an amount of approximately $3,000. “I should have told Judge Lodge, Jerry Spence, Chuck Peterson, David Nevin and Ellie Matthews in January 1993 at one of our pre-trial conferences that I suspected that the FBI was intentionally withholding documents/reports relevant to the trial and had been doing so for the past six months,” Howen said in a later Reader interview. “I was persuaded not to. I regret to this day not having the courage of my convictions to do so. “The Fourth Class Mailing was ‘the straw [that] broke my back’,” Howen continued. “It was clear that someone was directly trying to sabotage the case (and my career). I had to publicly disclose the documents in the Fourth Class Mailing and deliver them to Judge Lodge and defense counsel. ... I had to sit there and take it from defense counsel in open court. It was not the time or the place to blame someone else. It was my responsibility. You know, ‘the captain goes down with the ship.’ Even though Judge Lodge’s comments and rulings on the motion to dismiss motions during the trial did not hold me personally responsible, my reputation as an honest, ethical and professional prosecutor for 20 years was publicly gone.” After hearing from ballistics experts on the stand in regards to Marshal Degan’s killing, Howen announced the government’s case was complete. The defense attorneys huddled at the judge’s bench for a moment before Harris’ attorney Nevin proclaimed, “In view of the evidence that has been presented, Mr. Harris waives his right to present evidence.” According to one courtroom reporter, one of the juror’s jaws dropped in surprise. Gerry Spence then stood and said, “In view of the evidence that has been presented and the evidence that has not been presented,
A drawing on hotel stationary by Lon Horiuchi that was part of the delayed information sent via fourth-class mail. Government exhibit. the defendant Mr. Weaver also waives his right to present any evidence and rests at this time.” Spence used the same tactic a year earlier when he had successfully defended former Phillippine first lady Imedla Marcos against fraud charges. Amid the audible buzz of the courtroom, Judge Lodge dismissed the jury and announced that closing arguments would take place after the weekend. For over a month, the prosecution had called witness after witness, but the defense would rest their case without calling a single person to the stand. Spence said later in an interview, “It’s occasionally done when there seems to be a gross absence of proof.” Stay tuned next week for the final installment of the Stand-Off at Ruby Ridge: 25 Years Later, when we learn of the verdict, the aftermath and the effect this case has had on the country. The majority of the information gathered for these articles came from court documents, books and newspaper articles written during the trial. One especially informative book was “Ambush at Ruby Ridge” by Alan W. Bock. Special thanks to the reporters who covered it so extensively, including those from the Spokesman-Review and the Bonner County Daily Bee. September 7, 2017 /
STAND-OFF AT RUBYLARIDGE TER
25 YEARS Part 4: The Verdict and Aftermath
By Ben Olson Reader Staff Editor’s Note: In this, the fifth and final article on the stand-off at Ruby Ridge, we will share the close of the trial, the verdict and the aftermath of this incident. Special thanks goes out to Trish Gannon, who helped fact check and proofread the first few articles in this series, as well as the journalists who covered the story as it happened. In compiling these articles, I relied on many books and newspaper clippings, as well as interviews with key players in the trial. Motion to Dismiss It was June 11, 1993: one day after the prosecution led by Ron Howen rested its case against Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris. In a surprise move, defense attorneys Gerry Spence and David Nevin, who represented Weaver and Harris respectively, rested their own cases without calling a single witness to the stand. Spence began the day with a motion to dismiss all charges, claiming that the prosecution failed to prove any aspect of the case against Weaver and Harris. Howen rose to argue against the dismissal, but 15 minutes into his response, Howen seemed to lose his momentum. According to Dean Miller of the Spokesman-Review, Howen’s “left hand was shaking violently and his delivery lacked its characteristic vigor.” “I’m sorry, Judge, I can’t continue,” Howen told Judge Lodge, who then called a recess. Howen would not argue any more of the case. While the U.S. Attorney’s office de14 /
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clined repeated requests from Miller for an explanation of Howen’s behavior, the Reader asked Howen why he walked out in an interview this month. “The short answer was that I ‘hit the wall,’” Howen wrote. “I had initially decided to try the case by myself when my ‘little voice/internal alarm’ started going off during and immediately after the standoff. Several (U.S. attorneys) from other districts … volunteered to be part of a trial team. But I couldn’t ask anyone else to put their career on the line and warned them off particularly when it became apparent to me that someone very high up in FBI/DOJ land had authorized what Gerry Spence later fairly accurately stated were ‘shoot to kill orders.’” After the recess, Howen’s co-counsel Kim Lindquist didn’t finish Howen’s argument against the defense’s motion to drop all charges. Judge Lodge then dismissed charge six and eight from the indictment, claiming that evidence did not prove these charges. Count six originally dealt with Weaver and Harris allegedly firing upon an FBI helicopter the day Vicki Weaver was killed by FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi. Judge Lodge ruled there was no evidence of a threat to the helicopter. Count eight alleged that Weaver received 14 firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition while being a federal fugitive. Judge Lodge ruled that evidence suggested Weaver had owned the firearms in question before he became a federal fugitive. Judge Lodge also reserved the option to dismiss count nine charging Kevin Harris with “harboring and concealing” Weaver while he was a fugitive.
The remaining seven counts would be presented to the jury. In arguing in favor of dismissal of all charges, attorneys Spence and Nevin spelled out what they thought was a troubling case by the prosecution. They questioned whether the U.S. marshals were acting in their official capacity on the first day of the shootout since no evidence showed they had a warrant for Weaver’s arrest. Spence and Nevin also argued that the rules of engagement issued by the FBI had been illegal under Idaho law and that federal officers were not authorized to follow them. Spence’s argument that Idaho law could not be superseded by federal agents. Spence was also able to persuade Judge Lodge to give instructions to the jury that the religious beliefs of Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris could not be held against them in a court of law. Closing Arguments The next day, with the courtroom filled to capacity, Kim Lindquist presented the closing arguments for the prosecution built around an alleged conspiracy against the government by the defendants. Lindquist began by arguing that Weaver was an illegal gun dealer who had been plotting for more than a decade to get into a confrontation, and that as soon as the confrontation happened, Weaver wanted to appear as a victim. Lindquist then mapped out the prosecution’s case, starting with the Weaver’s religious beliefs in Iowa, claiming that the U.S. government was not persecuting Weaver for his religious beliefs, but those beliefs and
A government surveillance photo taken before the Stand-Off at Ruby Ridge. actions by Weaver eventually led to Weaver and Harris going too far. Lindquist argued that the government had shown remarkable restraint and reasonableness after Weaver failed to appear for illegal firearms charges. He said the government “bent over backward” trying to avoid a confrontation for 18 months, and when the conflict came, it wasn’t the government’s doing. David Nevin presented the defense’s closing arguments first, leading off with a quote by George Washington that stated, “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” Nevin then chipped away at the government’s version of events in the case, reminding the jury of several key issues brought up during the trial. He talked about how Harris had not fired the first shot, how the marshals claimed to be on a surveillance mission appeared to be on more of an action mission. Nevin also raised a doubt that Kevin Harris’ bullet had been the one that killed Marshal William Degan, showing that the backpack worn by Degan at the time of his death had a second exit hole of a bullet that the FBI lab seemed to have missed. Nevin argued that the existence of this second exit hole showed evidence that Marshal Larry Cooper, not Harris, could have been the one who fired the fatal shot that killed Marshal Degan. “I’m not saying that this is what happened for sure,” Nevin told the jury. “I’m only saying this is a possible scenario — but one that is at least as consistent with < see TRIAL, next page >
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the evidence and as believable as anything the government has proposed about how William Degan died.” After a break for lunch, Gerry Spence issued his closing arguments. He started by shaking hands with his client, his fellow attorneys and their wives, and telling the jury, “You may be the most important jury that’s come along for many a decade.” Spence told the 12 men and women that their purpose in this trial wasn’t to find out who wins the case, but that they were responsible for holding the government accountable for its actions. Spence argued that the government had attempted to sweep the deaths of Sammy and Vicki Weaver under the rug, and that the prosecution’s entire case had been built around the approach to demonize Randy Weaver. Spence’s tone, according to first-hand accounts, was even-keeled and inquisitive, but pointed. He essentially asked, “How did all this happen?” and spelled out the events that had led them to court; that the marshals had realized they shot a little boy in the back and the government began orchestrating a cover-up to demonize Weaver and take some of the blame off of themselves. Spence then gave a moving tribute to the late Vicki Weaver, arguing that “if she were standing in this courtroom today, I’d go up to her and give her a big hug — and tell her I’m glad we have people who are no longer afraid of the government.” Looking at the jury, Spence told them, “You have more power than anybody, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.” He then laid out several examples for how the government had botched the incident at Ruby Ridge as well as the case. He said the BATF agent who tried to turn Weaver into an informant was the one who “started it all,” that if Weaver had agreed to be a snitch, the agent, “would have kissed him on both cheeks.” Spence concluded by summarizing all the evidence that proved the prosecution had not proved anything they set out to prove, telling the jury, “Ladies and gentlemen, Randy and Kevin are in your hands. You can free them or imprison them.” The Verdict Judge Lodge sequestered the jury, which began its deliberations on June 16. On June 29, the 72-year-old jury foreman was excused from the case because of health issues. A new foreman was chosen, but because the alternate juror had not participated in deliberations, the jury had to start anew. The jury began their 14th day of deliberations on July 1, which was a new record for a jury to make a decision in a criminal case in the state of Idaho. On July 8, 1993, the jury returned with a verdict that the New York Times’ Timothy Egan called “a strong rebuke of the government’s use of force during an armed siege.” Kevin Harris was acquitted of all charges. The jury found that Harris’ actions
that led to the death of Marshal Degan were committed in self-defense. Randy Weaver was acquitted of all serious charges — murder, conspiracy, aiding and abetting — but was found guilty of two minor charges that spawned from the original arrest, including failure to appear and violating the terms of his bail. Weaver was also found not guilty of the original weapons charge against him. Later interviews with jurors determined that they believed the BATF undercover agents had entrapped Weaver into sawing off the shotgun. Jury Foreman John Weaver (no relation) told reporters the conspiracy charge against Weaver and Harris had been quickly dismissed. The foreman also stated that many witnesses called by the prosecution helped the defense more than the prosecution. When the verdicts were read, both Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris wept in court. Harris was released from custody immediately, telling reporters outside the courthouse, “I just want to thank the jury for everything. I think the right thing happened.” The charges against Weaver carried a possible sentence of up to 15 years. Sentencing had been scheduled for Oct. 18, so Weaver remained in custody for the time being. On the day of sentencing, the prosecution recommended a long sentence of 41 to 51 months in prison, but Judge Lodge had reserved the right to throw out count nine, claiming it did not constitute a separate offense from the failure to appear charge. Howen, who had appeared back as lead prosecutor, amended the recommended sentence to between 30 and 37 months in prison, plus fines between $6,000 and $60,000 plus court costs. Spence offered a guilty plea for the one remaining count three — the original failure to appear charge — if all the other charges were dropped. Howen refused the offer. After hearing testimony from several of the jurors and Weaver’s 84-year-old father, Judge Lodge addressed the court: “Counsel do their jobs well when they put a lot of pressure on the court. I assure you, they have done that.” Judge Lodge then lectured Weaver that he, of all people, having served in the military and having run for sheriff of Boundary County, should have respected the law enough to appear in court. Judge Lodge then predicted that his sentence would probably not please some people, but he had weighed all the factors carefully. “There are probably very few right answers when people suffer this kind of tragedy,” he said. Judge Lodge sentenced Randy Weaver to 18 months in jail and a fine of $10,000, plus three years of supervised probation. Because Weaver had already served 14 months in jail and was also eligible for 58 days off for good behavior, Weaver’s release was scheduled for Dec. 18, 1993. Randy Weaver asked Judge Lodge for permission to hug his daughters, then re-
turned to his cell at Ada County Jail. Weaver served another four months in jail before finally being released on supervised probation. Picking up the Pieces On June 10, 1994, after the Department of Justice commissioned the Ruby Ridge Task Force to investigate wrongdoings the federal government may have committed during the siege of Ruby Ridge, the Task Force delivered a detailed 542-page report that compiled all the known evidence involved in the case. This report, as well as persistent questions of malfeasance by the federal government, eventually led to a series of hearings by the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Governmental Information in late 1995. Throughout the 14 days of hearings, the Senate subcommittee criticized the FBI’s rules of engagement as unconstitutional. As a result of these hearings, the federal government standardized various use of deadly force policies to comply with their component agencies. The major change was the requirement of a reasonable belief of “imminent” danger of death or serious physical injury, which brought all federal use of deadly force policies in line with state and local law enforcement agencies. In August 1994, Gerry Spence, David Nevin and Chuck Peterson filed two civil lawsuits on behalf of Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris. One suit was filed against more than a dozen federal agents seeking civil damages for the wrongful deaths of Vicki and Sammy Weaver. The other was filed against the federal government for violating the constitutional rights of Weaver, Harris and the surviving Weaver family members. The attorneys sought $200 million in damages from the federal government. In an out-of-court settlement a year later, the federal government awarded Randy Weaver $100,000 and each of his three daughters $1 million each, though they admitted no wrongdoings in the deaths of Vicki and Sammy Weaver. FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi, who shot and killed Vicki Weaver and wounded Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris, was indicted for manslaughter in 1997 by the Boundary County prosecutor. The suit was dismissed on grounds of sovereign immunity, then reversed, then ultimately dropped by the newly elected Boundary County Prosecutor Brett Benson. In 1997, Kevin Harris was indicted for the first-degree murder of Marshal Degan, but the charge was dismissed on grounds of double jeopardy because he had earlier been acquitted of the same charge in 1993. David Nevin’s civil suit filed on behalf of Kevin Harris had stalled, mainly because federal officials vowed they would never pay someone who had killed a U.S. Marshall. After repeated appeals, Harris was finally awarded a $380,000 settlement from the government in September 2000. In October 1997, E. Michael Kahoe, the
Top: Randy Weaver explains logistics during the trial. Bottom: Randy Weaver confers with his attorney Gerry Spence. former chief of the violent crimes section at the FBI, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for destroying an “after-action” report that criticized the bureau’s role in Ruby Ridge. The 26-year veteran of the FBI had pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. No bar complaints were made against prosecutor Ron Howen by Judge Lodge or the defense team for his actions in the preparation and trial, but Howen’s career as a federal prosecutor was effectively over. “You don’t make enemies by defying the FBI or DOJ without consequences,” Howen wrote to the Reader. “Ultimately, it cost me a marriage and in part, the life of my son by suicide.” The Weaver family eventually moved near Kalispell, Mont. In a 2012 interview, Sara Weaver said she had forgiven the federal agents who had killed her mother and brother. “I went 10 years without understanding how to heal,” until becoming a born-again Christian, she told the Associated Press. “All bitterness and anger had to go. I forgave those that pulled the trigger.” Editor’s Note: Thank you for reading this series looking back at the Stand-Off at Ruby Ridge: 25 Years Later. Next week, we will start a series on the American Redoubt movement in Idaho, starting with an article that traces the anti-government sentiments in North Idaho that developed after Ruby Ridge and the Waco siege, the formation of various patriot movements such as the Militia of Montana, the Tea Party, the III% and eventually leading to the modern era with the Redoubt movement. I appreciate all those who assisted in these articles. -BO September 14, 2017 /
Stand-Off at Ruby Ridge: 25 Years Later. Special five-part series from August-September 2017 Reader.