Jury finds activist Tim DeChristopher guilty of both charges

Published: Friday, March 4 2011 12:26 a.m. MST

Tim DeChristopher hugs people as he leaves court following a guilty verdict on two federal charges — interfering with an onshore oil and gas leasing act and making a false representation to the federal government — in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 3, 2011.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Emboldened by supporters' tears and a stoic acceptance of the inevitable, a defiant Tim DeChristopher stood on the steps of the federal courthouse Thursday and said his conviction on two federal offenses will only serve to strengthen people's will to peacefully fight against injustice.

"This goes well beyond oil auctions. This goes to the role of citizens responding when government is acting unjustly," DeChristopher said.

The passionate words were spoken to a throng of faithful followers — many of them weeping — following his conviction of violating an onshore oil and gas leasing act and making a false representation stemming from a botched oil and gas auction in December of 2008.

An eight man, four-woman jury deliberated for about five hours Thursday before returning the verdict that could send DeChristopher to prison for up to 10 years, although U.S. Attorney for Utah Carlie Christensen said later that afternoon that the maximum sentence would not be sought.

Regardless, DeChristopher said he's prepared to spend time in prison.

"We know now that I will go to prison," he said.  "We know now that's the reality, but that's the job I have to do. … If we are going to achieve our vision, many after me will have to join me as well."

Many who had gathered on his behalf throughout four days of judicial proceedings replied, "I will join you."

Despite his criminal conviction, DeChristopher said he believed a powerful message had been delivered via the supporters who kept vigil outside the courthouse.

"These folks outside showed there is no consequence that our government can throw on us that is scarier than the path we are on right now," he said.

He told the crowd that the powers within the courthouse tried to convince him he was a little finger that could be broken. But the crowd of supporters showed he was a finger on a hand forming a fist, which is not a symbol of violence, but symbolic that "we will not be divided and we will not back down," he said.

"You've shown that your power will not be intimidated by any power!" he said to supporters.

DeChristopher's conviction came after after two days of testimony in which he was alternately portrayed as a deliberate troublemaker out to make an illegal stand or confused young college student passionately caught up in the confusing machinery of a bureaucratic land auction.

In closing arguments, John Huber, the lead prosecutor in the case, told the jury DeChristopher "chose a path of illegality" and caused turmoil and confusion.

He said despite what DeChristopher's defense team would have them believe, DeChristopher acted deliberately and knowingly to break the law when he won 14 parcels valued at nearly $1.8 million.

"He alone chose to cross the boundary of the rule of law and impact the lives of others and the government of the United States."

DeChristopher walked into the Bureau of Land Management offices in downtown Salt Lake City Dec. 19, 2008  and filled out a bidder registration form. That form required his signature acknowledging that he was acting in good faith and was aware that to do so otherwise was a violation of a federal statute.

Later, after he was pulled out of the auction by a BLM special agent, that officer testified that DeChristopher "laughed" when told of the parcels he won and their value. He then, according to Dan Love, asked how much trouble he was in.

Huber said the two had a "gentlemanly" conversation in which neither Love nor DeChristopher characterized as threatening or intimidating.

Instead, DeChristopher appeared boastful, according to Huber.

"Was this an accident, was this a mistake? Not after 14 parcels and $1.8 million," Huber said.

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