A U.S. federal jury has acquitted seven anti-government protesters who led an armed takeover of a wildlife refuge in the northwestern state of Oregon earlier this year.
The jury in Portland, Oregon, handed down acquittals for all seven defendants Thursday. They had been charged with conspiring to impede federal employees through intimidation or force at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January.
If convicted, they could have been sentenced to up to six years in prison on the conspiracy charge.
The defendants held a 41-day standoff at the wildlife refuge, drawing attention to their complaint about what they saw as mismanagement of federal land.
The land is subject to restrictions on logging, mining and ranching in an effort to protect the environment. Brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, who led the occupation in January, are ranchers who argue that cattle should be allowed to graze on public land.
During the occupation, group members held numerous news conferences to promote their cause. Their spokesman, Robert LaVoy Finicum, was shot and killed by police January 26 during a traffic stop, and the Bundys and several other leaders were arrested.
Four holdouts continued the occupation until February 11, when they surrendered to police.
Of 26 people charged with conspiracy in the case, 11 pleaded guilty, one had the charge dropped, and seven others chose not to be tried in the session that concluded Thursday. Their trial is scheduled to begin February 14.