Tue Aug 22 2017
Jury refuses to convict 4 in Nevada ranch standoff retrial
By Ken Ritter, Associated Press
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A federal jury in Las Vegas refused Tuesday to convict four defendants who were retried on accusations that they threatened and assaulted federal agents by wielding assault weapons in a 2014 confrontation to stop a cattle roundup near the Nevada ranch of states’ rights figure Cliven Bundy.
In a stunning setback to federal prosecutors planning to try the Bundy family patriarch and two adult sons later this year, the jury acquitted Ricky Lovelien and Steven Stewart of all 10 charges, and delivered not-guilty findings on most charges against Scott Drexler and Eric Parker.
More than 30 defendants’ supporters in the courtroom broke into applause after Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro ordered Lovelien and Stewart freed immediately and set Wednesday morning hearings to decide if Parker and Drexler should remain jailed pending a government decision whether to seek a third trial.
“Random people off the streets, these jurors, they told the government again that we’re not going to put up with tyranny,” said a John Lamb, a Montana resident who attended almost all the five weeks of trial, which began with jury selection July 10.
“They’ve been tried twice and found not guilty,” Bundy family matriarch Carol Bundy said outside court. “We the people are not guilty.”
A first trial earlier this year lasted two months and ended in April with a different jury finding two defendants — Gregory Burleson of Phoenix and Todd Engel of Idaho — guilty of some charges but failing to reach verdicts against Drexler, Parker, Lovelien and Stewart.
Prosecutors characterized the six as the least culpable of 19 co-defendants arrested in early 2016 and charged in the case, including Bundy family members. With the release of Lovelien and Stewart, 17 are still in federal custody.
The current jury deliberated four full days after more than 20 days of testimony. The six men and six women returned no verdicts on four charges against Parker — assault on a federal officer, threatening a federal officer and two related counts of use of a firearm — and also hung on charges of assault on a federal officer and brandishing a firearm against Drexler. Navarro declared a mistrial on those counts.
None of the defendants was found guilty of a key conspiracy charge alleging that they plotted with Bundy family members to form a self-styled militia and prevent the lawful enforcement of multiple court orders to remove Bundy cattle from arid desert rangeland in what is now the Gold Butte National Monument.
Bundy stopped paying grazing fees decades ago, saying he refused to recognize federal authority over public land where he said his family grazed cattle since the early 1900s. The dispute has roots a nearly half-century fight over public lands in Nevada and the West, where the federal government controls vast expanses of land.
Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre declined immediate comment on the verdicts. He said he’d make a determination later whether to seek a third trial for Parker and Drexler.
Stewart became emotional and reached for tissues as the jury findings were read. He and Lovelien were later taken with their lawyers, Richard Tanasi and Shawn Perez, to be processed by U.S. marshals for release.
Stewart, 38, lives in Hailey, Idaho. Lovelien, 54, is from Westville, Oklahoma, but he led a militia group called Montana State Defense Force.
All four men were photographed carrying assault-style weapons during the standoff near the Nevada town of Bunkerville, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Each had faced the possibility of decades in federal prison if they were convicted.
Jurors saw images of Parker and Drexler in prone shooting positions looking down their rifles through slots in the concrete barrier of an Interstate 15 freeway overpass toward heavily armed federal agents guarding a corral of cows below.
Defense attorneys noted that no shots were fired and no one was injured. They cast the tense standoff with more than 100 men, women and children in the potential crossfire as an ultimately peaceful protest involving people upset about aggressive tactics used by federal land managers against Bundy family members.
Drexler, 46, is from Challis, Idaho, and Parker, 34, is from Hailey, Idaho.
Parker’s attorney, Jess Marchese, said he hoped Myhre will dismiss the two charges remaining against his client.
Drexler’s attorney, Todd Leventhal, referred to defense teams’ complaints that Navarro set such strict rules of evidence that defendants weren’t able to tell why they traveled to the Bundy ranch.
The judge rejected testimony from five prospective defense witnesses, and Drexler and Parker were the only defendants to testify in their defense. However, the judge struck Parker’s testimony for what she said was a deliberate failure to keep his testimony within her rules.
All four defense attorneys declined Aug. 15 to make closing arguments, a gesture of standing mute that Leventhal said may have had an effect on the jury.
“As much as we were shut down from bringing anything up, the jury saw through it,” he said.
Wed Aug 23 2017
Prosecutor vows 3rd trial for 2 in Bundy ranch standoff case
By Ken Ritter, Associated Press
LAS VEGAS (AP) — The top federal prosecutor in Nevada vowed a third trial Wednesday for two men accused of armed assault on a federal officer in a 2014 standoff that stopped a cattle roundup near the ranch of states’ rights figure Cliven Bundy.
“There’s no question about us proceeding forward. Just so the record’s clear,” Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre told Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro a day after a jury acquitted two defendants of all 10 charges but failed to reach verdicts on four charges against Eric Parker and two counts against Scott Drexler.
“Raising a firearm against a federal law enforcement officer, or any law enforcement officer, is a crime,” Myhre declared as he lost a bid to keep the two men in federal custody until the next trial. “That’s why we brought (Parker) to trial and … intend to try him a third time.”
Parker and Drexler were photographed during the standoff on a high Interstate 15 freeway overpass near Bunkerville pointing rifles through concrete sidewall barriers toward heavily armed federal agents in a dry riverbed below. The agents were guarding corrals of rounded-up cattle and facing flag-waving unarmed men, women and children.
Navarro ruled that Parker, 34, of Hailey, Idaho, and Drexler, 46, of Challis, Idaho, can return to their home state to await trial, which she scheduled Sept. 25. She also scheduled an Aug. 31 hearing to determine if the date will stand.
Keeping the September date for the two men would mean another delay starting trial for Bundy, four of his sons and six other defendants who have been in federal custody since their arrests in early 2016 despite invoking their rights to a speedy trial.
The judge had set a schedule to begin trial this year for Cliven Bundy, sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and co-defendants Ryan Payne and Peter Santilli. Another trial for the remaining six defendants would be held next year.
“I just never expected they’d try them a third time,” Bret Whipple, Cliven Bundy’s lawyer, said Wednesday when he learned of Myhre’s comments. “It’s such a waste of taxpayer dollars, especially when they were so close to acquittal.”
In all, the jury of six men and six women reached not-guilty verdicts on 34 of 40 counts. Ricky Lovelien of Westville, Oklahoma, and Steven Stewart of Hailey, Idaho, were acquitted of all charges, even though jurors saw photos of them with weapons as well.
No verdicts were returned on assault on a federal officer, threatening a federal officer and two related of use of a firearm counts against Parker, and assault on a federal officer and brandishing a firearm charges against Drexler.
Parker’s attorney, Jess Marchese, said Wednesday that a juror who remained at the courthouse on Tuesday told him that votes were 11-1 for acquittal on the six hung charges.
No defendants were found guilty of a key conspiracy charge alleging that they plotted with Bundy family members to create a self-styled militia and prevent federal Bureau of Land Management agents from enforcing court orders to remove Bundy cattle from arid desert rangeland in what is now Gold Butte National Monument.
Bundy says he doesn’t recognize federal authority over public land where he said his family grazed cattle since the early 1900s. His dispute echoes a nearly half-century fight over public lands involving ranchers in Nevada and the West, where the federal government controls vast expanses of land.
Lovelien and Stewart were in the crowded courtroom gallery Wednesday when Myhre recalled the tense April 2014 standoff. Bundy backers in the audience gasped as the prosecutor described Parker’s actions as cowardly.
“He slithered behind the Jersey barrier to hide,” Myhre said, invoking a lesson he said he learned during his service in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“There’s nothing more dangerous than a coward with a weapon,” Myhre said. “That’s what we have here.”