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Federal protest defendant takes plea deal

BISMARCK—One year to the day of his indictment, attorneys and defendant Michael Giron signed off on a plea agreement related to a protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Under the agreement, Giron will plead guilty to civil disorder at his change of plea hearing Thursday in federal court in Bismarck. Federal prosecutors will move to dismiss the more serious charge of use of fire to commit a federal felony offense.

Defense and prosecuting attorneys also will ask District of North Dakota Chief Judge Daniel Hovland for a sentence of three years in prison with three years supervised release.

Giron, 45, is held in Rugby, where he was awaiting trial in April in Bismarck. His indictment stemmed from alleged crimes committed Oct. 27, 2016, as law enforcement met pipeline protesters on State Highway 1806 in southern Morton County.

He is the third federal protest defendant to reach a plea agreement in as many weeks, after Michael Markus and Red Fawn Fallis, who were also indicted from activities on the same date.

In a statement via the Water Protector Legal Collective, Giron's wife, Leoyla Cowboy, said her husband is her hero.

"Our time at Standing Rock was a life transformation for (him) and for our entire family," Cowboy said. "We are deeply grateful for all the support from our community and for all the teachings and the ceremonies that we were invited to attend in camp. We look forward to welcoming my husband home to continue to give back those teachings to others."

Giron's sentencing is set for late May in Bismarck before Hovland.

A joint trial for federal co-defendants Brandon Miller-Castillo, Brennon Nastacio, Dion Ortiz and James White has apparently not yet been set. They were indicted together with Markus a year ago in connection to a barricade fire set on a bridge as law enforcement advanced.

Miller-Castillo has not yet been arraigned.