PORTLAND, Ore. — A military veteran who joined Ammon Bundy at the very beginning of the Oregon standoff case wants to withdraw his guilty plea.
Ryan Payne, 33, of Anaconda, Montana, admitted in July that he conspired with others to prevent Interior Department employees from doing their jobs during the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildfire Refuge.
In a plea deal that included talks with prosecutors in Nevada, the U.S. attorney’s office in Oregon recommended that Payne’s likely 3½-year prison sentence run at the same time as the punishment he could receive for his role in a 2014 standoff with federal agents at a Nevada ranch owned by Cliven Bundy. That was expected to be 7-to-12 years in prison.
But public defender Rich Federico said in court papers filed Wednesday that the Nevada plea was only in draft format. Talks broke down, he said, and the offer is no longer available.
“On the date he entered a guilty plea in Oregon, had Mr. Payne known all the terms of the deal in Nevada, he would not have signed the deal in Oregon,” Federico wrote.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Oregon objects to Payne’s request to withdraw his plea. Payne is scheduled to be formally sentenced in February 2017, the same month his trial starts in Nevada.
The desire to withdraw the plea comes as seven of Payne’s co-defendants, including Ammon Bundy, stand trial at the federal courthouse in Portland. A verdict could come as early as next week.
Prosecutors allege the conspiracy began Nov. 5, 2015, when Bundy and Payne met with Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward and warned of civil unrest if he did not shield two local ranchers convicted of setting fires on public lands from having to return to federal prison.
After getting no help from Ward, the men led the armed occupation of the bird sanctuary.
Besides the breakdown of the Nevada plea negotiations, Federico pointed to new evidence discovered after Payne’s plea, such as the extent to which the government used confidential informants to infiltrate meetings at the refuge.
When Payne pleaded guilty, U.S. District Judge Anna Brown repeatedly asked Payne if he was aware of the pros and cons of his decision, and if he believed he was making a rational decision free of outside pressure.
Payne insisted he was.
But Federico contends it was clear Payne had serious misgivings about the factual basis for his plea and if he was really guilty.
“For example, Mr. Payne stated that ‘I have come to understand that folks who were — who work for the government, that the Constitution ordained, perceived my actions as threatening or intimidating.'”