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Prosecutor: Freemen Ready To Shoot

March 18, 1998

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) _ Six Montana Freemen were ready to use violence to protect their comrades from arrest during the 81-day standoff with the FBI on the plains of eastern Montana, a federal prosecutor said Tuesday.

But two defense attorneys insisted their clients were simply followers swept up in events.

The conflicting versions came in opening arguments during the trial of six Freemen, the first criminal trial in connection with the standoff.

Four of the defendants continued to watch the proceedings on closed-circuit television Tuesday from a holding cell. U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour banished them from the courtroom Monday after they disrupted the trial opening with shouting and cursing.

Court-appointed lawyers stepped in to represent them, but the attorneys said they had received no cooperation from their clients.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Seykora said in his opening statement that the jury would see videotapes showing violent acts, the six defendants carrying weapons and robberies of two TV news crews.

``The evidence will make it clear they were ready, willing and able to shoot FBI agents and other law enforcement officers to prevent them from arresting their friends,″ Seykora said.

Joseph Massman, who is representing Steven C. Hance, 48, said his client was merely a follower and ``not acting with knowledge or purpose.″

Lisa Swanson, who is representing 25-year-old James E. Hance, said Hance was simply following his father’s lead.

Testimony got underway with Tommie Canady, a former FBI agent who now teaches criminal justice at the University of Arkansas.

Canady testified that the FBI penetrated the Montana Freemen compound with wiretaps, hidden microphones and undercover agents for 18 months when agents decided to trap two of the men.

The March 1996 arrest of the two Freemen, who were grabbed when they emerged from the compound to check out a communications tower, is what led to the 81-day standoff.

Canady said their surveillance convinced them that the Freemen were heavily armed and serious in their vow to kill officers who tried to arrest them, which is why agents waited them out until their surrender.

The two Hances, along with another son, John, 21, all of Charlotte, N.C., and Jon Barry Nelson, 42, of Marion, Kan., were the Freemen ejected from the courtroom. The judge and lawyers already have agreed to instruct the jury not to consider the absence of the four from the courtroom in reaching a verdict.

Two Freemen sat at the defense table _ Elwin Ward, 57, and Edwin Clark, 47 _ but they also refused to participate in the trial. They remain seated when Coughenour enters and leaves the courtroom, a bit of contempt he ignores.

The six men are charged with being accessories by aiding federal fugitives _ the other Freemen in the stronghold dubbed ``Justus Township″ _ to avoid arrest during the standoff, which ended June 13, 1996.

The Freemen’s leaders are scheduled for trial in May on charges including bank fraud and threatening to kidnap and kill a federal judge.

Two dozen people are charged in connection with the Freemen’s two-year operation from their isolated compound. The FBI says 800 people from around the country took lessons at the rural stronghold in how to issue worthless liens and ``warrants″ the Freemen claim are legal tender.

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