The Montana attorney general dismissed felony charges Wednesday against seven militia followers arrested for allegedly plotting to kidnap and hang a judge.
“There is not sufficient evidence to prove the initial charges beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is necessary for a jury conviction, said Assistant Attorney General John Connor.
The seven defendants, including Militia of Montana co-founder John Trochmann, 51, of Noxon, Mont., had been arrested earlier this month in Roundup, Mont., north of Billings.
“It was another one of this nation’s classic cases of overreacting by law enforcement,” said attorney John DeCamp, of Lincoln, Neb., who represented the seven men.
“This whole thing was a comedy of errors and paranoia” by public officials, DeCamp said.
Trochmann, reached for comment at militia headquarters in Noxon, again declined requests for interviews.
“The truth shall prevail” was all he said in a brief prepared statement.
Two of the defendants, Frank Ellena, 45, of Billings, and Dale Jacobi, 53, of Thompson Falls, Mont., each will face misdemeanor charges of carrying concealed weapons, Connor said.
“After reviewing the evidence, I concluded that at this time we could only support the amended charges” against Ellena and Jacobi, Connor said.
DeCamp said the decision to charge Ellena and Jacobi with firearms charges was a “facesaving move” by the attorney general.
“Even in this country, we don’t lock people up because of your looks or your beliefs, but we came close to it here in this case,” DeCamp said.
The seven defendants were charged with intimidation and criminal syndicalism - an obscure Montana law accusing them of advocating crime, malicious damage or injury to property, violence or terrorism.
All charges were dismissed against Marc T. Basque, 34, of Alberton, Mont., Paul D. Stramer, 46, and Cajun James, 53, both of Eureka, Mont., and Amando G. Lopez, 35, of Rexford, Mont.
James, formerly of Kettle Falls, Wash., said he and the others plan to file a civil rights lawsuit for damages against sheriff’s deputies and other officials.
“I think there’s definitely some damages due after 13 days of incarceration and police brutality,” said James, an electrician and gun dealer. “I just wish this could have been resolved a lot sooner and with less pain.”
The “Montana 7,” as they called themselves, spent almost two weeks in jail before their bonds were reduced from $100,000 each to $10,000 and they were released.
The decision to dismiss the criminal charges came after the Montana attorney general’s office was asked to handle the case by the Musselshell County prosecutor in Roundup.
County Attorney John Bohlman couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
Musselshell County Sheriff Paul Smith said that although the original felony charges were dismissed, “we’re continuing the investigation, based upon the information” that there was a plot to kidnap and possibly hang a judge or other public official.
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