PORTLAND, Ore. — A federal judge sentenced a man Thursday to a year and a day in federal prison for digging a trench during last year’s armed takeover of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon.
Duane Ehmer, 47, of Irrigon, Oregon, was found guilty in March of depredation of government property.
The trial in which three other men were convicted came months after occupation leader Ammon Bundy and six co-defendants were found not guilty in a separate trial.
Dozens of people occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge from Jan. 2 to Feb. 11, 2016, in a protest against federal control of Western lands and the imprisonment of two ranchers.
They were allowed to come and go for several weeks as authorities tried to avoid bloodshed seen in past standoffs at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho.
Bundy and other key figures were arrested in a Jan. 26, 2016, traffic stop away from the refuge that ended with police fatally shooting occupation spokesman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum.
Anxiety gripped the refuge the next morning, with a dwindling number of Bundy followers fearing the government was about to violently storm the place. Ehmer, a military veteran, said he and another man dug the trench as a defense.
“I dug that hole, there’s no doubt about it; I never denied that,” Ehmer told the judge Thursday. “But it was only to save human life, my own and the lives of my friends.”
U.S. District Judge Anna Brown said Ehmer was trespassing, so there was no reasonable excuse for damaging property that also contained artifacts important to the Burns Paiute Tribe.
Ehmer, who often dresses patriotically, wore an American flag blazer to his sentencing. He told the judge he has the “utmost respect” for Native Americans and would never knowingly disturb culturally sensitive artifacts. Brown later pointed out that Ehmer never apologized to the tribe.