NINE years after Ruby Ridge standoff, prosecutor says it's time for court battles to end

Friday, June 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) _ Nine years after a federal agent shot and killed the wife of white separatist Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge, an Idaho prosecutor says he's prepared to put the case to rest.

Prosecutor Brett Benson said Thursday that he will move to dismiss an involuntary manslaughter charge against FBI sharpshooter Lon Horiuchi, who shot Vicki Weaver during the 1992 standoff in the doorway of the northern Idaho family's cabin.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that Horiuchi could face trial in the shooting.

But Benson, who prosecutes cases for Boundary County, Idaho, said it was unlikely the state could prove the case and that too much time had passed. His predecessor, Denise Woodbury, had filed the charge.

``The Ruby Ridge incident was a tragedy that deeply affected and divided many of the citizens of this county and country,'' Benson said in a statement from his Bonners Ferry, Idaho, office. ``It is our hope that this decision will begin the healing process that is so long overdue.''

He did not return a telephone call seeking additional comment.

Special Prosecutor Stephen Yagman, who was appointed by Woodbury to handle the case, criticized Benson's decision and said he hoped a different prosecutor might refile the charge.

``I could not disagree more with this decision than I do,'' Yagman said. ``It sounds to me like the system has suffered a temporary corruption.''

The Ruby Ridge standoff prompted a nationwide debate on the use of force by federal agencies, a debate that was furthered the following year by the government siege on the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas.

The 11-day standoff at Ruby Ridge began after government agents tried to arrest Randy Weaver for failing to appear in court on charges of selling two illegal sawed-off shotguns.

The Weaver cabin had been under surveillance for several months when the violence began in August with the deaths of Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan and Weaver's 14-year-old son, Samuel.

Horiuchi later shot and killed Weaver's wife and wounded family friend Kevin Harris. Witnesses said the sharpshooter fired as Vicki Weaver held open the cabin door, her 10-month-old baby in her arms.

Horiuchi has said he didn't see Vicki Weaver when he fired at Harris, who was armed and was ducking inside the cabin. He also said he fired to protect a government helicopter overhead.

The case was seen as a test of whether federal agents are immune from state prosecution.

Charges against Horiuchi had been dismissed twice by federal courts, but last week's 6-5 appeals court ruling cleared the way for Idaho prosecutors to pursue charges against him. Those in the dissent called the majority's opinion a ``grave disservice'' to FBI agents and argued that Horiuchi, who is still an FBI agent, should be immune from prosecution.

Horiuchi's attorney, Adam Hoffinger, was out of the country and not available for comment Thursday.

No one answered the telephone Thursday at Randy Weaver's Iowa home. Weaver had praised the appeals court's ruling allowing Horiuchi to be prosecuted, calling it ``a good day for America and the justice system.''

The Ruby Ridge standoff ended with Harris and Weaver surrendering. Both men were acquitted of murder, conspiracy and other federal charges. Weaver was convicted of failing to appear for trial on the firearms charges and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

The Justice Department last summer settled the last civil suit stemming from the standoff. The government admitted no wrongdoing, but paid Harris $380,000 to drop his $10 million civil damage suit.

In 1995, the government paid Weaver and his three surviving children $3.1 million for the killings of Weaver's wife and son.