By Steve Gorman
(Reuters) – A man who tried to get Mormon church leaders to mediate an end to last year’s occupation of a federal wildlife center in Oregon by armed militants was sentenced on Wednesday to two years on probation for his own brief role in the takeover.
Wesley Kjar, 33, a Utah native who prosecutors said acted as a bodyguard for occupation leader Ammon Bundy in the early days of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge siege, pleaded guilty last June to a single count of conspiracy to impede federal officers.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of six years in prison.
Federal prosecutors had recommended Kjar (pronounced “Care”) be confined to his home during the first five months of his two-year probation. But U.S. District Judge Anna Brown ordered him to perform 250 hours of community service instead, attorneys for both sides in the case confirmed to Reuters.
The brief duration of Kjar’s role in the six-week occupation and his lack of a prior criminal record both factored in the leniency of his sentence.
Kjar stayed at the refuge just five days, he said, because he objected to the direction the occupation took.
After leaving on Jan. 9, 2016, he returned to Utah seeking to enlist leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the formal name for the Mormon faith, to intervene and negotiate a peaceful settlement of the dispute.
When that failed, Kjar said, he met two occupation organizers – Ryan Bundy and Robert “LaVoy” Finicum – urging them, in vain, to at least surrender their firearms. Finicum was shot to death days later trying to evade a police checkpoint outside the refuge. The siege ended about two weeks later.
The militants had seized the Malheur refuge in the name of two Oregon ranchers they said were unfairly treated in a federal arson case, and to protest about broader grievances over U.S. government control of public lands in the American West.
They cast their uprising as a patriotic act of civil disobedience. Prosecutors called it a lawless scheme to seize federal property by the threat of force.
Ryan Bundy and brother Ammon Bundy were later tried and acquitted of conspiracy charges with five other defendants in connection with the occupation.
The Bundys are now standing trial on 15 criminal counts in Las Vegas for their part in a separate 2014 armed confrontation with federal agents near their father’s ranch in Nevada.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Robert Birsel)