PORTLAND, Ore. — A man who had been charged in connection with the occupation of a national wildlife refuge says he holds no ill will against prosecutors and that he knew he would not be found guilty.
Peter Santilli tells the Oregonian/OregonLive (https://is.gd/UL1MHh ) that he knew his charge of conspiracy would not stick. Prosecutors filed a motion last week to dismiss the charge.
When the government floated the idea of a plea agreement, Santilli was not having it.
“I would rather spend a year fighting to get my cases dismissed or a deal for time served,” Santilli said. “I’m not going to be strong-armed into pleading guilty to something I didn’t do.”
The 50-year-old is an independent broadcaster from Cincinnati, Ohio, who live-streamed the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which began Jan. 2 and lasted for 41 days. He contends he covered the protest as a journalist and stayed at the Silver Spur Motel rather than the refuge.
Eleven of 26 defendants indicted in the refuge takeover case entered guilty pleas. Seven are in trial. Seven others are set for trial in February.
Santilli said he didn’t support the takeover of the refuge and instead had supported Ammon only in the Jan. 2 protest in Burns where they demonstrated against the return to federal prison of two Harney County ranchers convicted of setting fire to federal land. Bundy and supporters went from there to the refuge.
“I was in absolute opposition to it,” Santilli said during Saturday’s interview. “I was upset because he (Ammon Bundy) hadn’t told me they were going to take over buildings.”
Santilli said his opposition to the takeover would have been his defense at trial. He said enhanced audio of his recorded coverage of the protest proves he said he disagreed with the takeover.
Santilli said he was completely ready for trial but now, after nearly eight months in county jail, he’s OK with the outcome.
“I do not have one ounce of bitterness at all,” he said. “Maybe because of my courage in pushing the boundaries on my show, I knew the First Amendment would protect me. I knew the Department of Justice would do the right thing in the end, and they did.”
Santilli still faces more serious federal charges in Nevada in connection to an April 2014 armed standoff with federal officers who were thwarted from taking cattle belonging to senior patriarch and controversial Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy in Bunkerville, Nevada. Santilli said he has the same faith he will be exonerated before a jury in those proceedings.
Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, http://www.oregonlive.com