Kevin Harris and many Boundary County residents got what they’ve long wished for Thursday - some sign of closure to the Ruby Ridge saga.
A judge dismissed a charge that Harris murdered a deputy U.S. marshal during Randy Weaver’s 1992 standoff with federal agents. Harris, 29, had been released on bail after his arrest in August.
Boundary County Prosecutor Denise Woodbury was vilified when she filed the charge - the same charge Harris faced when a federal court jury acquitted him in 1993.
Magistrate Quentin Harden, who reviewed the case for two days, said an old Idaho law forbids trying Harris a second time for the killing.
“I find (Idaho law) bars further prosecution of Kevin Harris for the acts set forth … in this complaint,” Harden said in his ruling.
The decision may spare Boundary County residents a costly trial and more unwanted media attention. It also brings the community one step closer to putting Ruby Ridge to rest.
“The general feeling in the community is let bygones be bygones and get Ruby Ridge out of our hair,” County Commissioner Merle Dinning said. “But who knows what could happen. This decision came from the lowest court in the state of Idaho.”
Neither Woodbury nor her deputy prosecutor, Todd Reed, commented on the judge’s decision. Ann Thompson, a spokesman for Woodbury, said the county is considering whether to appeal.
“Denise wants to take some time to reassess her position and then go forward from there,” Thompson said. Harris’ attorneys were ecstatic, saying the court ruling was like “winning the lottery.”
“This needs to be put behind Kevin Harris so he can go on living his life, said attorney Scott McCay.
David Nevin, another Harris lawyer, said he was confident the ruling will withstand an appeal. It might even be best to have the matter settled by the Supreme Court.
“That way it would finally be decided and the law would be clear forever more,” Nevin said.
The battle between Nevin and Woodbury centered on one word of a 133-year-old Idaho law. It says the state is barred from prosecuting anyone convicted or acquitted of a crime in another state, territory or country.
Nevin argued the word country referred to the United States and the federal government, which already tried Harris. Woodbury maintained Harris would only be exempt from prosecution if he was previously tried in a foreign country.
The judge said that lawmakers did not intend to give more credence to a court in another country “than to the courts of our own nation,” Harden wrote.
“It’s amazing how everyone knows what double jeopardy is except the prosecutor,” said Tony Brown, a friend of both Weaver and Harris. “Harden did the right thing. I think it’s great a small town and small jurisdiction somehow provides some checks and balances against other law enforcement.”
Weaver, a white separatist, and Harris drew national attention during the Ruby Ridge standoff in Boundary County. Weaver had refused to appear in court on a weapons charge. Three people were killed in the gunbattle, including Weaver’s wife, Vicki; his son, Sam; and Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan.
Boundary County authorities charged Harris with Degan’s death. Woodbury also filed an involuntary manslaughter charge against FBI sniper, Lon Horiuchi, for killing Vicki Weaver. Horiuchi’s trial is pending. It will likely be moved out of Boundary County to a federal court in Boise.
“Hopefully everyone understood that Denise (Woodbury) had to do what she did,” said resident and retired attorney Pete Wilson.
“I don’t know what’s left. Most here just wish this would all be put behind us and regret it ever happened in the first place. We would just like to be alone again.”
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