Defense attorneys who represent associates of rancher Cliven Bundy responded swiftly this week to a government motion that aimed to block testimony about a wide range of topics in the upcoming trial against the people charged as gunmen in the 2014 standoff in Bunkerville.
The six alleged gunmen, who are scheduled to stand trial next month in Las Vegas, are considered the least culpable of the 18 people indicted last year.
Attorneys for three of them took only a day to respond to a broad government request asking the judge to prohibit defense attorneys from making statements related to six different topics. The topics range from mentions of federal authority over the land where the standoff occurred to claims that federal agents mistreated Bundy’s cattle when they tried to seize them following a decadeslong dispute over grazing fees.
Defense strategy is predicated on some of the material for which the court requested a blanket ban.
“Some of the statements that the government’s motion refers to are plainly relevant and admissible,” defense attorney Todd Leventhal, who represents Scott Drexler of Idaho, wrote in the response. Drexler grabbed his gun and traveled to Bunkerville upon learning of the confrontation through online postings by Bundy supporters.
Defense lawyers also criticized the government’s request as too broad. They argue that prosecutors tried to exclude evidence referencing “perceived government conduct,” but fail to identify what sort of evidence it aims to exclude.
“Some evidence regarding ‘perceived government conduct’ is relevant and admissible because it explains why the defendants were protesting in Bunkerville,” Leventhal wrote.
He argued that without referencing that evidence, it would be impossible for him to explain to a jury “necessary background information like why the defendants traveled from Idaho to Bunkerville, why the BLM was armed and collecting cattle in Bunkerville, and why there was a protest in Bunkerville in the first place.”
According to the filing, the men charged as gunmen traveled to Bunkerville because they thought that the government “was basically ‘stealing people’s personal property, killing cows, and limiting free speech by erecting a makeshift first amendment corral in the middle of the desert.’”