A former Murray resident convicted in the Montana Freemen case is out of jail and might have already served enough time behind bars to satisfy his punishment.
Elwin Ward was released from the Yellowstone County Jail Wednesday because the time he already has spent in jail is roughly equivalent to the sentence he faces.Ward, 57, was convicted Tuesday of making a false claim to the government. He sent a fake Freemen check to the Internal Revenue Service for double the amount of a tax bill and requested a refund of the difference.
He was acquitted on a charge of being an accessory during the 81-day 1996 standoff between the Freemen and the FBI on a foreclosed farm near Jordan.
Attorney David Duke said in a motion to U.S. District Court that Ward's 21 months and eight days in jail basically equaled what his sentence would be under federal guidelines, so he should be freed pending sentencing.
Sherry Matteucci, U.S. attorney for Montana, said prosecutors didn't oppose the motion for release.
"We wanted him held before trial because we wanted to be sure he would show up for trial," Matteucci said. "But now that he's been convicted, we're not as concerned. He will be released on certain conditions that will ensure he will appear for sentencing and there will be no substantial risk in the community."
Sentencing of Ward and the four other Freemen found guilty Tuesday is set for June 5.
District Judge John C. Coughenour of Seattle set that date Wednesday during a hearing on issues involving the second Freemen trial, scheduled to begin May 26.
That case, which is the government's main case, charges 14 individuals, including Freemen leader LeRoy M. Schweitzer, with conspiracy to commit fraud and other crimes listed in a 40-count indictment.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Seykora told the judge Wednesday that it will take five to six weeks to try the main case. Seykora also said the government will seek a superseding indictment next week against Freemen defendant Casey Veldhuizen, of Woodstock, Minn., who is charged separately with conspiracy to commit fraud.
The government intends to consolidate Veldhuizen's case with the main case, he said.
During Wednesday's session, jailed defendants Daniel E. Petersen, Jr., 55, of Winnett; William L. Stanton, 67, of Brusett; Emmett B. Clark, 69, of Brusett; his brother, Ralph E. Clark, 67; and Dana Dudley, 48, of Four Oaks, N.C., all were present in the courtroom.
Defendants who have been released pending trial - including Stanton's wife, Agnes B. Stanton, 54, and her son, Ebert W. Stanton, 25, of Brusett; Petersen's wife, Cherlyn B. Petersen, 53, of Winnett; and John P. McGuire, 58, of Calistoga, Ca. - also attended.
Defendants who have been ejected for disrupting earlier sessions remained at the Yellowstone County jail where they could follow the session through a remote television system.
The judge said he was concerned someone would get hurt if U.S. marshals attempted to transport them to the courtroom.
Coughenour advised those defendants they could attend any time if they behaved.
The five defendants who stayed in jail include Schweitzer, 59, of Belgrade; Richard E. Clark, 49, of Grass Range; Rodney O. Skurdal, 45, of Roundup; Dale M. Jacobi, 55, of Thompson Falls; and Russell D. Landers, 46, of Four Oaks, N.C.
Coughenour made no immediate rulings on requests to suppress wiretap evidence, suppress the identification of McGuire as a participant in the robbery of an ABC news crew and to suppress evidence from a search conducted in Cheyenne, Wyo. He also didn't rule on a request to have the upcoming trial moved to Seattle because of pre-trial publicity.