Top 50 Stories: 1992 - Ruby Ridge

Randy Weaver's refusal to appear in court on gun charges sparked a shootout, standoff and lingering anti-feds rage

krodine@idahostatesman.comJune 15, 2014 

Ruby Ridge is a wooded crest in Idaho's northernmost county. It's also a flashpoint for anti-government anger and suspicion.

Three people died on Randy Weaver's Ruby Ridge property on Aug. 21 and 22, 1992. Family friend Kevin Harris fatally shot U.S. Marshal Billy Degan after another marshal killed the family's dog. Sammy Weaver, 14, Weaver's son, was fatally shot in the back. The next day an FBI sniper's bullet hit his mother, Vicki Weaver, in the head as she stood behind a door holding her 10-month-old daughter, who lived. The sniper also wounded Harris and Randy Weaver.

The standoff on the Weavers' remote acreage southwest of Bonners Ferry lasted 11 days, attracting protesters and supporters ranging from skinheads to a presidential candidate. Populist candidate Bo Gritz helped convince Weaver to come out; famed Stetson-wearing defense attorney Gerry Spence agreed to represent him.

The saga played out on the Statesman's front page under the heading "Mountaintop Standoff" until Randy Weaver surrendered on Aug. 31. With the Weavers holed up in their cabin, early coverage was dominated by government sources, and negotiators reportedly didn't know that Vicki and Sammy Weaver had been killed until days later. Unaware that the sniper's bullet had killed Vicki on Day 2, officials reportedly considered her a hostage. After investigators found Sammy's body in the family's birthing shed, they told reporters that he might have been killed by Harris. That bullet was found years later and linked to a marshal's gun.

Weaver was charged with aiding and abetting murder. After a nine-week trial and the longest jury deliberation in Idaho history, he was found guilty only of failing to appear in court. Harris was acquitted of charges filed against him. FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi was charged with involuntary manslaughter, but that charge was dropped.

The surviving Weavers filed a $200 million wrongful death suit against the U.S. government and settled for $3.1 million - $100,000 for Randy Weaver and $1 million for each of his three daughters.

A 542-page U.S. Justice Department report found that the shot that killed Vicki Weaver violated the department's deadly force policy and "contravened the Constitution."

Ruby Ridge became a rallying cry for extremist groups and was cited by Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh as one of his motivations for targeting a federal building.

The siege began about a year and a half after Randy Weaver refused to appear in court on charges he sold sawed-off shotguns to a federal informant he met at an Aryan Nations gathering. A warrant was issued for his arrest, but the family's propensity for carrying firearms and Vicki Weaver's threatening letters to government officials discouraged agents from approaching the Weavers' home directly. So on Aug. 21, a surveillance team of marshals entered the property, reportedly scouting for positions for an undercover plan to capture Weaver.

A subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on Ruby Ridge in the fall of 1995. FBI Director Louis Freeh testified that "one misstatement of fact exaggerated to another one, into a huge pile of information that was just dead wrong."

Weaver told senators that if he had it to do over, "I would come down the mountain for the court appearance."

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