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Freemen Member Pleads Guilty

The federal trial of 14 members of the Montana Freemen, the anti-government group who held the FBI at bay in an 81-day standoff two years ago, opened Wednesday with a mass boycott by most of the militants - and a guilty plea by one of them.

Ten of the 14 anti-government militants, those who have been held in jail since the standoff ended in June 1996, opted not to attend the trial, instead watching proceedings from a holding cell on closed-circuit television.

But in an unscheduled court appearance before the trial began, one Freeman defendant pleaded guilty to a count of interstate transportation of stolen property.

Dana Dudley Landers, 48, of Four Oaks, N.C., entered the plea before U.S. District Judge John Coughenour before the scheduled trial opening. She also agreed to testify against the other Freemen.

Most of Landers' co-defendants told federal marshals Wednesday morning that they would not participate in the trial. They were taken to the holding cell where Coughenour, watching the cell on his own video monitor, asked them to affirm by raising a hand that they did not wish to participate. Each did so.

The judge then began questioning about 80 prospective jurors. Fourteen will be chosen to hear the case, including two alternates.

Jury selection had been scheduled to begin Tuesday, but it was canceled when one defendant was hospitalized briefly just as court was scheduled to begin.

The ailing defendant, Cornelius John "Casey" Veldhuizen, 59, of Woodstock, Minn., was returned to the Yellowstone County jail only a couple of hours later. Officials did not say what his illness was, but fellow defendant John P. McGuire said it was high blood pressure.

The defendants are charged in two indictments with more than 40 offenses, including:

  • conspiracy to commit fraud
  • committing wire, bank, and mail fraud
  • armed robbery of TV news crews from ABC and NBC
  • threatening to kill U.S. District Judge Jack Shanstrom of Billings, Mont.
Several defendants have threatened trouble if they are brought into court. Coughenour said he would not force any of them to attend, and also would not tolerate any disruptions.

Six secondary members were tried this spring on similar charges, and five were convicted.

The Clark families' repossessed farms northwest of Jordan became the stronghold the Freemen called Justus Township, where some two dozen members of the anti-government extremists held hundreds of FBI agents at bay for 81 days in the spring of 1996.

Written by Tom Laceky