Seven weeks before his trial was to commence in federal court in Bismarck, Michael Markus has signed a plea agreement related to his indictment from a protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016.
Signed Jan. 17, Markus' plea deal outlines he will plead guilty to civil disorder while defense and prosecuting attorneys will jointly recommend a three-year sentence followed by three years of supervised release, along with moving to dismiss his other charge of use of fire to commit a federal felony offense.
He faces up to five years in prison, three years supervised release and a $250,000 fine if sentenced to the maximum. He also may be ordered to pay restitution.
Markus, 45, is on pretrial release. He was indicted with four others a year ago in connection to a barricade fire set on the Morton County Road 134 bridge on Oct. 27, 2016, as law enforcement advanced. That day, officers were moving south on State Highway 1806 and swept a protest camp erected on a pipeline easement.
His trial had been severed from the one for co-defendants Brandon Miller-Castillo, Brennon Nastacio, Dion Ortiz and James White. As a result, Markus can give testimony regarding Nastacio's involvement in the fire.
Markus is set for a change of plea hearing in two weeks in Bismarck before District of North Dakota Chief Judge Daniel Hovland, followed by sentencing on May 29 in Bismarck.
He also still has open state-level charges related to protest activities — all misdemeanors set for three trials in March and April in Morton County.
Red Fawn Fallis, who was indicted for firing a handgun at arresting officers, also recently signed a plea agreement related to her indictment in connection to the pipeline protest. She will likely be sentenced in late spring.
Another federal protest defendant, Michael Giron, is held in Rugby awaiting trial in April in Bismarck before Hovland. He is indicted on the same charges as the other men.
It's unclear when the other four defendants will stand trial together. Miller-Castillo has apparently not yet been arraigned following the indictment in February 2017.
Nastacio and White are on pretrial release. Ortiz is jailed in New Mexico, awaiting space at a halfway house.
Assistant U.S. attorneys Gary Delorme and David Hagler are prosecuting.