A jury on Friday declared an FBI agent not guilty of obstructing an investigation into who fired two errant shots at rancher Robert “LaVoy” Finicum on Jan. 26, 2016, a key figure in a group that seized an Oregon wildlife refuge.
Agent W. Joseph Astarita, 41, was charged with making false statements and obstruction of justice after telling investigators he did not fire the shots that missed Finicum as he left his vehicle while authorities tried to arrest him at a roadblock. Oregon State Police fatally shot Finicum seconds later — a killing that was deemed legally justified.
His attorneys, Robert Cary and David Angeli, stressed to jurors that no eyewitnesses saw Astarita fire his weapon, and there was no ballistic evidence linking a bullet to his rifle.
"We are grateful to the men and women of the jury who saw through a case that should have never been brought," the lawyers said in a joint statement. "Joe Astarita is innocent and it was our privilege and honor to represent him."
Ammon and Ryan Bundy and five other occupiers at the Maelhour National Wildlife Refuge were found not guilty of conspiracy and gun charges two years ago. Earlier this year, charges against Cliven Bundy stemming from a Nevada standoff in 2014 were dropped.
At the roadblock where Finicum was killed, investigators say they identified those responsible for six of the eight rounds fired. No one claimed the other two. Based on FBI aerial surveillance videos and forensic analysis tracing a bullet back to his position, prosecutors believed Astarita was the only one who could have fired the shots.
Finicum and other occupiers led by Ammon Bundy seized the refuge on Jan. 2, 2016, to protest the imprisonment of Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, who were recently pardoned by President Trump.