August 21, 1997 in Nation/World

Charges Expected In Ruby Ridge Siege Harris To Stand Trial For Murder; Agent For Manslaughter

Kevin Keating Craig Welch Contribute Staff writer
 

Five years after the Ruby Ridge standoff, Boundary County authorities are prepared to file murder and manslaughter charges against two people involved in the shootout, sources familiar with the investigation said Wednesday.

Prosecutor Denise Woodbury plans to charge white separatist Randy Weaver’s friend, Kevin Harris, with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan, two law enforcement sources confirmed.

Woodbury is also expected to charge FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi with manslaughter, said the sources, who spoke on condition that they not be identified.

Horiuchi told a grand jury four years ago that he accidentally shot Weaver’s wife, Vicki, in the head. The agent said he was aiming at Harris as he ran through a doorway into the Weaver family’s cabin.

Boundary County Deputy Prosecutor Todd Reed said his office will make an announcement about its Ruby Ridge investigation today. A time for the news conference had not yet been set.

Reed said further details will be released today.

Repeated attempts to reach Woodbury at her office and home Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Harris’ attorney, David Nevin of Boise, was unaware of any pending charges, saying he has not had any conversations with Boundary County prosecutors.

“I have heard they were coming to a point of making a decision,” Nevin said. “I don’t have much insight as to what they will do.”

Boundary County Commissioner Merleen Skeen said Woodbury has had meetings with federal officials. The prosecutor has not, however, provided commissioners with any information on the case.

“The board of commissioners don’t know anymore than anyone else right now. It’s entirely her (Woodbury’s) call,” added Commissioner Merle Dinning.

Woodbury has talked with the Idaho Attorney General’s Office about her Ruby Ridge investigation.

“We have been asked to provide some consultation to Boundary County,” said Bob Cooper, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office. Cooper said his office would participate in a trial “only if we’re asked to by the prosecuting attorney.”

It’s been five years to the day since Randy Weaver’s standoff with federal agents at his Boundary County cabin. The Aug. 21, 1992, shootout left three people dead - Vicki Weaver, her son Sam, and Degan.

The shootout generated national attention and prompted congressional hearings on the use of force by federal agents. The event also fueled nationwide interest in the militia and anti-government movements.

The saga started after federal agents tried to arrest Randy Weaver for failing to appear in court and face charges for selling two illegal sawedoff shotguns.

Weaver had refused to leave his remote cabin near Naples, about 16 miles north of Sandpoint. A shootout began when the Weavers spotted camouflaged agents doing surveillance near the family’s cabin.

After being surrounded by agents for 11 days, Weaver gave himself up to authorities. He and Harris were tried in federal court on a myriad of charges, including murder and conspiracy. The men were found innocent.

Charging Harris with murder would not invoke the constitutional protection against being tried twice for the same crime.

Double jeopardy occurs when a person is tried twice by the same governing body. The United States and the state of Idaho are legally separate, independent governments.

It’s not uncommon for state courts to try individuals who also have been charged in federal court. Before and after Timothy McVeigh was sentenced in federal court to die for the Oklahoma City bombing, Oklahoma County’s district attorney announced plans to try McVeigh in state court on murder charges.

Federal prosecutors, who spent millions of dollars on the Weaver trial and several investigations, were unable to convict anyone for the killings.

Boundary County authorities will go to court with far less experience, money and resources.

Prosecutors reportedly appeared before a judge late Wednesday to show they had enough evidence to file the charges, sources said.

They have until Friday to file a manslaughter charge in connection with Vicki Weaver’s death, since that’s when the statute of limitation expires. There is no statute of limitations for murder.

Just last week, federal prosecutors ended a two-year investigation of several FBI officials for their role in the Ruby Ridge standoff. The probe concluded there was insufficient evident to press criminal charges against FBI Director Larry Potts or his deputy, Danny Coulson. They were accused of destroying records to cover up who approved a change of rules that allowed agents to shoot at anyone who was seen outside the Weaver cabin.

The results of the federal investigation prompted a flurry of calls to the Boundary County prosecutor, many asking whether the county was going to pursue a case. Charles Peterson, one of Randy Weaver’s lawyers, also expressed his disgust with the federal investigation.

“I think it’s too bad that the Justice Department is not going to prosecute Lon Horiuchi for manslaughter, as he clearly took a reckless shot and killed an innocent woman,” Peterson said last week.

This is Woodbury’s first year as a prosecutor. She inherited the Ruby Ridge investigation from Randall Day, whom she defeated in the last election.

Before leaving office, Day hinted that charges would be filed in the case. After combing Ruby Ridge three years after the shootout, investigators found what Day believes is the bullet that killed Sam Weaver.

In 1995, the county borrowed $100,000 to pay for its Ruby Ridge investigation. The county never spent all the money.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Kevin Keating Staff writer Staff writer Craig Welch contributed to this report.


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