U.S. District of North Dakota Chief Judge Daniel Hovland has sentenced the third of seven federal defendants indicted from the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.
As part of a plea agreement with prosecutors from earlier this year, Michael Markus pleaded guilty to civil disorder, with the more serious crime of use of fire to commit a federal felony dismissed. Hovland sentenced Markus on Thursday in Bismarck's federal court to 36 months in federal prison followed by three years supervised release, under attorneys' joint recommendation.
Markus likely won't serve all of that time. He will receive about two months credit for time served and will be eligible for release after serving 85 percent of his sentence. He will also serve at least a year of supervised release, depending on a potential recommendation from his probation officer to Hovland to lessen the three-year period of supervision.
Markus was indicted with several others for starting a barricade fire on the Morton County Road 134 bridge on Oct. 27, 2016, one of the most chaotic days of the monthslong protests in southern Morton County. Law enforcement officers swept south along North Dakota Highway 1806, where protesters had erected a camp on a pipeline easement.
Five people gave testimony in support of Markus, mostly individuals he met while at the Oceti Sakowin camp, including his wife, Olivia Bias. She and Markus recently married.
Markus had been on pretrial release for the past year at a ranch near Cheyenne, Wyo. Hovland commended his compliance with pretrial regulations.
The judge also allowed Markus to self-surrender after the federal Bureau of Prisons arranges his period of incarceration, likely in Minnesota. Markus must turn himself in to prison officials on or before Nov. 26.
He spoke for several minutes in federal court in Bismarck, noting how his original involvement in the protests was to deliver supplies and food, but grew more "heavily" involved after pipeline construction bulldozed what protesters have said were sacred sites.
"How would you feel if someone went through your family cemetery and plowed through? Or Arlington (National Cemetery)?" Markus said before Hovland. Markus wiped his eyes and said his role in camp was to protect people, be they protesters or police.
"That is what I'm meant to do, protect people, no matter who they are," he told Hovland.
Attorneys for Markus asked Hovland to allow him to serve the final 12 months of his sentence at a halfway house. Hovland said Markus could be placed in a halfway house while on supervised release.
After moving testimony from Markus' friends and family, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Delorme reminded Hovland of the consequences and potential harm of protest activities on Oct. 27, 2016, that police and protesters could have been hurt or "engulfed" by flames from the barricade fire.
"There was never any thought about that. It was all wrapped up in this protest," said Delorme, who also noted Markus' apparent "safety net of family and friends."
Hovland said Markus doesn't appear to be a flight risk and wished him the best.
"I hope that you can weather this and move on with your life," the judge said.
Two other federal defendants indicted from the DAPL protests have been adjudicated. Two more are set for sentencing later this year.