July 25, 2018
By Shari Dovale
W. Joseph Astarita, a member of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), is on trial in Portland charged with lying and obstruction of justice in connection to the events culminating in the shooting of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum on January 26, 2016.
The jury of 9 men and 3 women were seated on Tuesday with opening statements this morning, Wednesday, July 25th.
The prosecution put forth strong arguments against Astarita, with the defense following up by grasping at straws in their strategy to show some reasonable doubt for their client.
To begin with, according to the prosecutor, there were eight (8) shots fired with only two (2) shell casings being recovered. The prosecution suggests that Astarita collected the missing six (6) casings.
Included in the defense opening statements were that their client could not have fired at the vehicle because he is one of the finest shooters in the world and, therefore, would not have missed his target. They contend that this should prove his innocence. They did not address the fact that he may very well have hit his mark exactly, if he were attempting to provoke the Oregon State Patrol (OSP) into shooting at the truck.
The defense has also attempted to cast doubts on the trajectory analysis for varying reasons, including that the snow may have melted enough to change the position of the truck, thereby invalidating all of the analysis.
Additionally, the defense team talked about the Federal agents picking up the shell casings. Claiming that these men are trained to pick up all of their equipment, they said that the agents could actually have been picking up LIVE ROUNDS from the ground, as they were concerned about militia members possibly coming to the scene. This is apparently a new protocol, as I have never heard of the regulations being to clean up the crime scene before the investigation has concluded, or even begun.
Another bombshell statement was made that an agent from the first stop called ahead to the agents at the second stop after Finicum sped away in the truck. The first agent made remarks that Finicum refused to stop and therefore they would have to “shoot him”. These statements go to their justification defense. The law is clear that they are only justified in firing their weapons for self defense or defense of others, so this explanation is another desperate attempt by the defense.
We are waiting to see how the trial attorneys deal with the issue of the FBI ordering the OSP not to turn body cameras on.
Finicum’s vehicle will be brought to the courthouse for the jury to examine, as well. It is unclear if the public will be able to view the truck.
After the opening statements this morning, the prosecution began calling witnesses. Former Special Agent In Charge Greg Bretzing took the stand and his testimony will resume after lunch.
The court has said this trial may last 3-4 weeks.