PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - The federal trial for seven of the armed protesters who occupied a a national wildlife refuge in Eastern Oregon has begun in Portland.
The defendants include brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, the leaders of the occupation who are part of a Nevada ranching family embroiled in a long-running dispute over land use.
The judge heard opening statements Tuesday.
Ammon Bundy's lawyer, Marcus Mumford, told jurors that his client did not conspire to impede U.S. government workers but the occupation was a legitimate attempt to take possession of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Ryan Bundy, who is representing himself, said he came to the wildlife refuge to help a local ranching family, not to break the law. He said he is "in favor of government as long as it's done correctly."
A federal prosecutor says seven people who took part in an armed takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge aren't on trial because of their anti-government beliefs.
In a 45-minute opening statement, prosecutor Geoffrey Barrow told jurors "everyone in this great nation has a right to his or her beliefs."
But, he says the defendants broke the law when they seized the wildlife refuge.
Barrow said one of the occupiers who already took a plea deal will testify against the defendants.
The first witness in the case is Harney County Sheriff David Ward. He is scheduled to testify Wednesday morning.
A handful of protesters showed up Tuesday outside the federal courthouse in downtown Portland. They waved an upside-down American flag and were joined by a horse named Lady Liberty. They planned to march around the courthouse during the trial's lunch breaks.
Latest: Updates from the trial
About the trial
The accused are charged with conspiring to impede Interior Department employees from doing their jobs at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge through intimidation or threats. Some are also charged with possession of a firearm in a federal facility and theft of government property.
Prosecutors say the conspiracy began a couple of months before the takeover, when Ammon Bundy and Ryan Payne, who pleaded guilty in July, visited the Harney County sheriff and warned of extreme civil unrest if he did not shield the ranchers from prison.
The defendants say they used their First Amendment rights to engage in a peaceful protest and repeatedly mention that the only shots fired during the occupation were those fired by police at fellow occupier LaVoy Finicum, who died.
The government will remind jurors that the protesters established armed patrols shortly after the takeover, an action that deterred federal employees from going to work.
A total of 26 people were charged with conspiracy. Eleven have pleaded guilty, including Payne and several others from the Bundys' inner circle. Charges were dropped against another man. Seven defendants sought and received a delay in their trial, now scheduled for February.
The jury includes eight women and four men from throughout Oregon. The trial is expected to last until November.