News


DATE=5/26/98
TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT
NUMBER=2-232823
TITLE= FREEMEN TRIAL (S/L)
BYLINE= MICHAEL LELAND
DATELINE= CHICAGO
CONTENT=
VOICED AT: 

INTRO:  A FEDERAL COURT TRIAL BEGINS WEDNESDAY IN THE WESTERN U-S
STATE OF MONTANA FOR LEADERS OF AN ANTI-GOVERNMENT GROUP KNOWN AS
THE MONTANA FREEMEN.  FOURTEEN MEMBERS OF THE GROUP WERE ARRESTED
TWO YEARS AGO, AFTER AN 81-DAY STANDOFF WITH FEDERAL LAW 
ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS.  MORE FROM V-O-A'S MICHAEL LELAND.

TEXT:  JURY SELECTION FOR WHAT IS EXPECTED TO BE A MONTH-LONG 
TRIAL WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE GOTTEN UNDERWAY TUESDAY, BUT THE JUDGE
PUT THAT ON HOLD WHEN ONE OF THE DEFENDANTS REPORTEDLY BECAME ILL
AND HAD TO BE TAKEN TO A HOSPITAL.  OFFICIALS SAY THE MAN WAS 
RETURNED TO THE JAIL IN THE CITY OF BILLINGS,  MONTANA BY MIDDAY.

THE FREEMEN CONTEND THEY ARE SOVEREIGN AND THAT FEDERAL AND LOCAL
LAWS DO   NOT  APPLY TO THEM.  THE 14 ON TRIAL IN BILLINGS ARE 
CHARGED WITH MORE THAN 40 CRIMES, INCLUDING CONSPIRACY, BANK 
FRAUD, THREATENING A FEDERAL JUDGE AND ARMED ROBBERY.     FIVE 
OTHER MEMBERS OF THE GROUP WERE CONVICTED ON SIMILAR CHARGES A 
FEW MONTHS AGO.  

SEVERAL FREEMEN SUPPORTERS WERE BARRED FROM THE COURTROOM 
TUESDAY, WHEN THEY SHOWED UP WEARING SHIRTS PRINTED WITH MESSAGES
DENOUNCING THE GOVERNMENT'S HANDLING OF THE CASE.

                     // REST OPT FOR LONG //

A FEW OF THE DEFENDANTS HAVE THREATENED TO CAUSE DISRUPTIONS IF 
THEY ARE BROUGHT INTO THE COURTROOM.   U-S DISTRICT JUDGE JOHN 
COUGHENOUR HAS SAID  NONE  OF THE DEFENDANTS WILL BE FORCED TO 
ATTEND, AND HE WILL  NOT  TOLERATE DISRUPTIVE BEHAVIOR FROM THOSE
WHO DO.  DURING THE FIRST FREEMEN TRIAL EARLIER THIS YEAR, 
SEVERAL OF THE DEFENDANTS WERE PLACED INTO HOLDING CELLS IN THE 
COURTHOUSE, WHERE THEY WATCHED THE TRIAL ON CLOSED-CIRCUIT 
TELEVISION.

THE LONG STANDOFF BETWEEN THE FREEMEN AND FEDERAL AGENTS TOOK 
PLACE 200 KILOMETERS NORTHEAST OF BILLINGS, AT A RANCH NEAR THE 
TOWN OF JORDAN.  THE FREEMEN HAD RENAMED THE RANCH "JUSTUS 
TOWNSHIP," AND USED IT TO HOLD CLASSES WHERE THEY ARE ACCUSED OF 
TEACHING AS MANY AS 300 PEOPLE HOW TO FILE PHONY COURT DOCUMENTS 
TO CLAIM PROPERTY, AND HOW TO PRODUCE AND USE FALSE FINANCIAL 
DOCUMENTS.  FEDERAL OFFICIALS SAY THE FREEMEN DEFRAUDED FINANCIAL
INSTITUTIONS, PUBLIC AGENCIES AND BUSINESSES OF NEARLY 
TWO-MILLION DOLLARS.   

THE FREEMEN ARE ALSO ACCUSED OF TRYING TO ESTABLISH THEIR OWN 
GOVERNMENT AND COURT SYSTEM, AND THREATENING THE LIVES OF LOCAL 
OFFICIALS WHO REFUSED TO COOPERATE.  SIXTEEN MEMBERS OF THE GROUP
SURRENDERED PEACEFULLY TO FEDERAL OFFICIALS ON JUNE 13, 1996.  
FOURTEEN OF THOSE ARE DEFENDANTS IN THE TRIAL THAT GETS UNDERWAY 
WEDNESDAY.  (SIGNED)

NEB/MJL/JO

26-May-98 4:34 PM EDT (2034 UTC)
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Source: Voice of America
.