SALT LAKE CITY -- A jury began deliberating the case late Thursday morning of a Utah man who disrupted an oil-and-gas auction in 2008 by buying up $1.8 million in leases to take a stand against climate change.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers made their closing arguments in a crowded courtroom before sending the case to the eight men and four women.
U.S. Attorney John Huber said Tim DeChristopher "derailed, disrupted and sabotaged" the 2008 auction in the final days of the Bush administration.
Defense lawyer Ron Yengich said the defendant simply wanted to raise a red flag about aggressive drilling in pristine western areas, and had no malicious intent.
DeChristopher, 29, a former wilderness guide, pleaded not guilty but doesn't dispute the facts of the case. He said he expects to be convicted of placing fake bids on more than a dozen leases near Utah's Arches and Canyonlands national parks to try to run up prices.
But DeChristopher testified on Wednesday that he meant no harm to anyone, including the auction agency, the federal Bureau of Land Management.
He said he did not arrive at the auction with the intent to become a bidder but decided it was the only way to enter the auction and make a strong statement against the auctioning of leases.
Fellow environmentalists, who range from celebrities to activists, have made DeChristopher a folk hero of their movement, insisting he was standing up to a federal agency that violated environmental laws by holding the auction.
Federal prosecutors have called him a saboteur, saying DeChristopher knowingly placed the bids at the 2008 auction without any intention of paying.
The prosecutors say DeChristopher is the only person ever charged with failing to make good on bids at a lease auction of public lands in Utah. They have offered plea deals over the past two years, but he opted to go to trial.
He faces up to 10 years in prison and $750,000 in fines if convicted on charges of interfering with and making false representations at a government auction.
Huber argued the defendant crossed the line when he left a lawful protest outside the auction and "chose a path of illegality and criminal conduct."
"He was there to take a stand. He figured he was in so much trouble already. He might as well go for it -- $1.8 million. A quarter of all the winning bids that day," the prosecutor said.
Yengich said DeChristopher didn't have any malicious intent when he went to the auction and bid up the leases.
"He wanted to raise a red flag. He wanted to make a statement. He wanted people to think of the consequences," the defense lawyer said.
"He wanted to give some hope to people," he added. "You may disagree about how he went about it. The government may disagree. But that was his purpose in being there."
DeChristopher looked straight ahead and showed little reaction as the lawyers made their closing arguments.