BISMARCK-Michael Giron told a federal judge that the four months he spent in a pipeline protest camp helped turn his life around from drug addiction.
He appeared Thursday in federal court in Bismarck before District of North Dakota Chief Judge Daniel Hovland for his change of plea hearing. Under a plea agreement, Giron, 46, pleaded guilty to civil disorder while prosecutors will move to dismiss his more serious charge of use of fire to commit a federal felony offense.
Defense and prosecuting attorneys will jointly recommend a sentence of three years in prison at Giron's sentencing hearing in late May.
"Mr. Hagler, I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity with this plea agreement to return home to my family," Giron said to Assistant U.S. Attorney David D. Hagler. His wife and daughter sat in the gallery.
Hovland asked Giron about his 11 months in custody, his criminal and personal histories.
"It's been a really rough life for me," Giron said, describing his drug-addicted parents, use of meth and likelihood of overdosing or incarceration if he had continued using drugs.
"When I got to camp, to Standing Rock, it was a very emotional, powerful day for me," said Giron, who worked camp security. "I got to see a different view in life.
"There was something that changed me, gave me something to look forward to," he said.
Hovland said he is likely to accept the plea agreement's joint recommendation for sentencing, though civil disorder brings a maximum imprisonment of five years.
From here, a Grand Forks federal probation officer will interview him as part of a pre-sentence investigation. Hovland said the Federal Bureau of Prisons will give Giron credit for his time in custody.
He was indicted a year ago in connection to protest activities on Oct. 27, 2016, as law enforcement moved south on State Highway 1806 in response to a protest camp erected on a pipeline easement.
Six others also were indicted in connection to the monthslong pipeline protests, amid hundreds of state-level cases.