Monday, September 17, 2001
Ninth Circuit Vacates En Banc Ruling Allowing Trial in Ruby Ridge Shooting
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Friday vacated its ruling allowing Idaho prosecutors to try an FBI sharpshooter for manslaughter in the shooting death of the wife of white separatist Randy Weaver during the 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff.
The 11-judge en banc court that issued the ruling in June issued a brief order vacating not only that decision, but all previous opinions in the case, including that of the district judge. The court said the case was moot.
Lon Horiuchi was charged in 1997 by Denise Woodbury, then the Boundary County, Idaho prosecutor. Woodbury named Venice civil rights attorney Stephen Yagman, a veteran of police abuse cases, as special deputy in the case.
Woodbury has since left office. Her successor, Brad Bennett, announced shortly after the en banc ruling that his office would not pursue the case, citing doubts about whether a conviction could be obtained in light of the evidence, the significant amount of time that had passed, and the likelihood of further delay based on a petition for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Horiuchi then moved to vacate the prior rulings, leading to Friday’s order.
A three-judge panel ruled last year that the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause protected Horiuchi from prosecution under Idaho criminal law, whether or not the agent was deemed to have used excessive force in shooting Vicki Weaver.
The sharply divided en banc court disagreed, saying there was enough evidence for a jury to decide hat Horiuchi had “violate[d] the Constitution, either through malice or excessive zeal” and should “be held accountable for violating the state’s criminal laws.”
The 1992 standoff in northern Idaho prompted a nationwide debate on the use of force by federal agencies. Ruby Ridge, where the Weaver family lived, has become synonymous with high-profile clashes between militants or separatists and the federal government.
The standoff began after federal agents tried to arrest Randy Weaver for failing to appear in court to face charges of selling two illegal sawed-off shotguns.
The cabin had been under surveillance for several months when the siege began with the deaths of Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan, Weaver’s 14-year-old son, Samuel, and the Weaver family dog, Striker.
Part of a hostage rescue team, Horiuchi fired through a door at Kevin Harris, a friend of Weaver who was armed, and hit Vicki Weaver in the head as she carried an infant in her arms.
Horiuchi maintains he didn’t see Vicki Weaver when he fired at Harris. He also has said he fired to protect a government helicopter overhead.
In asking for a dismissal, Bennett said he hoped to “bring long-awaited closure to an event…that deeply affected and divided many of the citizens of this county and country” and to “begin the healing process that is so long overdue and so much deserved.”
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company