By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
Several state lawmakers including House Speaker Scott Bedke testified in the trespassing trial of Ammon Bundy and Aaron Von Schmidt this week, in which both men were found guilty.
Bundy, who has announced plans to run for governor, is charged with misdemeanor trespassing and resisting or obstructing arrest after an event on Aug. 25, 2020, during the Legislature’s special session.
Von Schmidt is charged with misdemeanor trespassing.
Both Bundy and Von Schmidt were accused of refusing to leave the Lincoln Auditorium after a committee hearing had been relocated to another room.
Testimony came before an Ada County jury with Magistrate Judge David Manweiler on the bench.
Bedke, who is running for lieutenant governor, testified about his authority to clear people from a committee room.
In recent Idaho history, it’s unclear if a candidate for lieutenant governor has ever testified in the criminal trial of a candidate for governor.
Bedke testified that he instructed Idaho State Police to close the Lincoln Auditorium when the legislature’s business was complete in the room.
ISP officers rolled Bundy out of the Statehouse in an office chair and put him in a wheelchair at the Ada County Jail because he refused to cooperate with officers.
Bedke was called as a witness by the prosecution. Conservative lawmakers Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, Sen. Christy Zito, R-Hammett, and Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, were called by Bundy’s defense attorney, Sam Bishop.
Von Schmidt also questioned those witnesses, acting as his own attorney.
Von Schmidt’s questions centered around the claim that he was not in the room when ISP announced that the auditorium needed to be vacated.
When Bundy was involved in the 2016 Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation, Boyle visited the location. Boyle also testified Wednesday that she visited Bundy’s wife and children when Bundy was in jail.
Bundy chose to testify on Wednesday, answering questions from Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Whitney Welsh. He said he does not regret his actions in the Lincoln Auditorium, did not deny them and stressed that it was a peaceful action.
“I believed I had a right to be there,” he said in court.
Prosecutors argued Speaker Bedke had the authority to close the auditorium under House Rules 63 and 64, as well as Idaho law.
On Thursday, the trial entered its fourth day and the defendants called witnesses before closing arguments were heard.
Prosecutors argued that the defendants were warned multiple times that they needed to leave the auditorium or they would be arrested.
Von Schmidt largely argued that he was not notified he couldn’t be in the Lincoln Auditorium.
“I wasn’t given an opportunity to leave, you’ve seen the evidence,” Von Schmidt told jurors.
Bishop asked jurors in closing to stand up for Bundy’s rights, in turn standing up for all rights.
“I’m not asking you to agree with Mr. Bundy or agree with what we did or his opinion, but agree with his right to do it,” Bishop said
In closing, Welsh focused on Bundy, noting that he is not registered to vote but did offer testimony to legislators in committee before his arrest.
“You don’t have to get arrested to make a point,” she said. “If you want to break the law, that’s fine. There are consequences.”
Bundy faces only misdemeanor convictions, so he is still eligible to run for elected office.
Jurors deliberated Thursday evening for about an hour and a half.
After the jurors announced their verdict, Manweiler heard sentencing immediately afterward.
Manweiler ordered Von Schmidt serve three days in jail and gave him credit for the three days already served. He must also pay a $500 fine. He will not be required to serve probation.
In sentencing Bundy, Manweiler said he debated the circumstances of his case, recognizing it was non-violent. He didn’t consider Bundy a threat and he has no prior criminal convictions.
“You’re a smart guy, Mr. Bundy. You’re a clever and sophisticated man,” he said. “You have the ability to wield great political power because of the people that believe in you.”
Manweiler acknowledged that Bundy has reason to have distaste for the judicial system, but agrees with the jury’s verdict. He also didn’t believe a sentence would deter Bundy.
“There is a way to voice your displeasure with the government,” he told Bundy.
Manweiler ordered Bundy serve three days in jail with credit for three days he already served. He required Bundy serve 40 hours of community service in lieu of 5 more days in jail for the resisting arrest charge. He will also be required to pay a fine.
“I just don’t see the upside of throwing you in jail today,” Manweiler told the men.