By Jenny Wilson Las Vegas Review-Journal April 25, 2017 – 6:24 pm
A federal jury’s failure to reach a unanimous verdict on 50 of the 60 counts in the first Bunkerville standoff case — and the mistrial that resulted — has spurred a flurry of concerns about speedy-trial rights among others accused of conspiring with rancher Cliven Bundy.
Eleven people still await trial on charges that they organized a mass assault on federal agents who tried to seize Bundy’s cattle from public land in April 2014.
The first trial ended Monday when U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro declared a mistrial and set a new trial date of June 26. Jurors convicted two of the first six defendants on some of the counts but deadlocked on most of the charges contained in the indictment. The new trial date coincides with the previously scheduled start date for the second group of defendants: Cliven, Ammon and Ryan Bundy; Ryan Payne; and Peter Santilli.
One question is hanging over the federal courthouse in the wake of Monday’s mistrial: What happens next? Federal prosecutors still have not decided whether to retry the defendants. Taxpayers already have been saddled with significant costs, which only will balloon in a repeat trial. And the remaining 11 defendants who have been in prison for over a year do not want to wait any longer for their day in court.
That is why some defense attorneys who represent the second group of defendants, charged as “leaders” of the armed protests in Bunkerville, are hoping that if prosecutors decide to retry any or all of the men in the first group, they will do so by combining them with the second group.
“The sensible thing would be to take the three or four and just push them into our group and let it go forward,” defense attorney Christopher Rasmussen said.
The attorney represents Santilli, a local radio personality who plans to argue at trial that he is innocent because he was a member of the media reporting on what he viewed as government overreach.
“Why keep the Bundys and Santilli in custody another four months?” asked Rasmussen, who has filed a motion requesting that Santilli be tried on June 26, when the first group of defendants is retried. “We’re just hoping to go forward as quickly as possible.”
The original plan was for the second trial to open 30 days after the first. Navarro already pushed that back to give prosecutors time to regroup and to prepare in between trials.
“They’re happy that the jury believed there was no conspiracy. That’s what they’ve always said, that nobody conspired with anybody,” Rasmussen said of Santilli and the others awaiting trial. “But they’re really frustrated. They want to go to trial.”
Supporters of the Bundy family and those closest to them, who, like Santilli, are charged as “leaders” of the standoff, also were encouraged by Monday’s results.
“If we can’t get a ‘not guilty,’ we’ll take that,” said Deb Jordan, Santilli’s girlfriend, after the jurors revealed they were “hopelessly deadlocked.”
Rasmussen’s recent motion, however, could have other aims. He previously has argued through legal filings that the at-times unruly behavior of the others in Santilli’s trial group — like the Bundy brothers, who have refused to come into the courtroom for a routine hearing and instead chosen to watch proceedings from a holding cell — could be prejudicial.
Review-Journal writer Blake Apgar contributed to this report. Contact Jenny Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-384-8710. Follow @jennydwilson on Twitter.