January 8, 1998 in Nation/World

Idaho Judge Orders Trial For Fbi Sniper Agent Accused Of Manslaughter In 1992 Death Of Vicki Weaver

By The Spokesman-Review

FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi will stand trial for the shooting death of Vicki Weaver during the 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff, a judge ruled Wednesday.

“There is probable or sufficient cause to believe the defendant guilty,” Judge Quentin Harden wrote in his decision.

Horiuchi fired a shot toward the remote cabin where Vicki and Randy Weaver, their children and family friend Kevin Harris were holed up.

She was holding her 10-month-old daughter when a bullet hit her in the head and she collapsed to the floor and died.

Harden conducted a hearing Dec. 17 to determine whether there is enough evidence to try Horiuchi for involuntary manslaughter.

He issued his ruling Wednesday, agreeing with Boundary County Prosecutor Denise Woodbury that a criminal act had been committed.

The veteran FBI agent would face a maximum of 10 years in prison if convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Randy Weaver said he would rather see Horiuchi tried for murder. “It’s taken a long time for this, but sometimes the wheels of justice grind slowly,” he said.

“I was confident they were going to bring him to trial. I hope he eventually sees he is just one of the scapegoats in this. I really believe when he realizes his chances at trial aren’t good, he’s going to squeal on some other people,” Weaver said.

Horiuchi has said Vicki Weaver’s death was an accident. He was aiming at Harris, who was running back into the cabin when Horiuchi pulled the trigger.

The bullet struck and wounded Harris after it had passed through Vicki Weaver’s head. The Weavers’ three daughters also were in the cabin when Horiuchi fired.

Woodbury called Horiuchi’s shot reckless, likening it to firing into a crowd. She charged Horiuchi with involuntary manslaughter in August.

The sniper testified that he thought he was actually shooting at Randy Weaver, not Harris. “To shoot without having identified the target clearly is criminal…negligence,” Woodbury said in court documents. “Taking all the evidence as a whole, the defendant showed utter disregard for other human life.”

Horiuchi is scheduled to appear in Boundary County court next month to enter a plea. But his lawyers have already asked that the case be moved to federal court in Boise.

Horiuchi has the right to request a federal trial because he was performing his duties as a federal agent when the shooting occurred. A judge in Boise will hear arguments Monday before deciding whether to move the case to federal court.

The FBI agent has had ongoing death threats for his role at Ruby Ridge, and his lawyers are concerned about his safety in North Idaho.

The lawyers also fear a Boundary County jury would tend to be anti-government and sympathetic to the Weavers. Randy Weaver now lives in Montana but at one time ran for sheriff in Boundary County.

Horiuchi’s lawyers, who are being paid by the federal government, did not return calls to comment on the case Wednesday. Woodbury was out of state celebrating a wedding anniversary and unavailable for comment.

Harris’ lawyer, David Nevin, said his only disappointment was Horiuchi isn’t facing murder charges. “The man has admitted under oath he intended to kill these people,” Nevin said. “There is no question he was on duty and on the payroll when he did this. But killing people without the right isn’t in (his) job description.”

The Ruby Ridge saga began after Randy Weaver failed to appear in court on an illegal-weapons charge.

Federal agents were doing surveillance on Weaver’s remote cabin in August 1992 when they were spotted by the Weavers. A gun battle erupted and Weaver’s 14-year-old son, Sam, and Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan were killed.

Vickie Weaver was shot after agents surrounded the Weaver home, beginning an 11-day standoff.

After they surrendered, Randy Weaver and Harris were acquitted of murder and conspiracy charges by a federal jury.

When Woodbury charged Horiuchi, she also filed state murder and assault charges against Harris in Degan’s death and the wounding of another agent.

A judge dismissed that case, ruling Harris could not be tried twice for the same crime.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEXT? A U.S. District judge in Boise will hear arguments Monday before deciding whether to move the case to federal court.

This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEXT? A U.S. District judge in Boise will hear arguments Monday before deciding whether to move the case to federal court.

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