By Scott Bransford
PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - A federal court jury began deliberations on Thursday in the trial of six men and a woman charged with conspiracy for their roles in the armed takeover of a U.S. Wildlife center in Oregon earlier this year.
U.S. District Judge Anna Brown in Portland instructed members of the 12-member panel late on Wednesday on how to apply the law to facts in the case, capping two days of closing arguments by prosecutors and defense lawyers. The jury began deliberations Thursday morning, Kevin Sonoff, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Portland, said.
The summations in turn followed weeks of testimony from witnesses, some of whom took part in the 41-day siege at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in remote eastern Oregon that began in early January.
The militants' leader, Ammon Bundy, and six followers are charged with conspiracy to impede federal officers through intimidation, threats or force, as well as with possession of firearms in a federal facility and theft of government property.
Each faces up to six years in prison if convicted of conspiracy alone.
The occupiers say they acted out of solidarity for two Oregon ranchers they believed were unfairly punished in an arson case, and to protest their larger grievance against federal control over millions of acres of public land in the West.
Bundy and others, including his brother and co-defendant Ryan Bundy, cast the takeover as a legitimate and patriotic act of civil disobedience.
The government has countered that the defendants engaged in a lawless scheme to seize federal property by armed force.
Prosecutors also argued that defendants' own claims that they sought to confiscate the refuge under an obscure doctrine of property law called "adverse possession" was itself an admission they were conspiring to prevent federal employees from returning to their jobs.
More than two dozen people have been charged in connection with the Malheur takeover, and a second group of defendants are due to stand trial in February.
At the conclusion of their trial in Oregon, the Bundy brothers face assault, conspiracy and other charges stemming from a separate 2014 armed standoff with law enforcement in Nevada at the cattle ranch of their father, Cliven Bundy.
(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Michael Perry and David Gregorio)