A defendant in the trial set to begin in Nevada next week against Cliven Bundy and others in their 2014 standoff with federal agents has asked for a delay, citing the mass shooting in Las Vegas by a man who lived a few miles from the Bundy Ranch.
The carnage will prejudice potential jurors and prevent a fair hearing, the lawyers for Ryan Payne argued in a motion to continue the trial for at least two months.
Las Vegas is deep in mourning following Sunday’s unfathomable massacre at an outdoor country music festival that killed 59 people and wounded more than 500, the lawyers wrote. The gunman, Stephen Paddock, lived in Mesquite, Nevada, just northeast of the Bundy Ranch and where Bundy and his armed supporters faced off with government agents.
Paddock, a 64-year-old retiree, carried high-powered assault rifles and was found with 23 guns in his hotel suite overlooking the concert and another 19 firearms in his home, authorities said.
The fear is that jurors will associate the man responsible for the Las Vegas carnage with Bundy and his supporters, many who “passionately believe in the right to bear arms,” the lawyers claim.
Some of the defendants and their supporters are accused of carrying rifles and aiming them from high ground at U.S. Bureau of Land Management agents.
“The horror of this recent shooting is too recent, and the impact of this incident on the community is too severe, for a fair trial to commence next week,” the defense lawyers wrote,” Payne’s assistant federal public defenders Brenda Weksler and Ryan Norwood wrote in the motion filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas.
President Donald Trump will be in Las Vegas on Wednesday, and funerals for the victims likely will be held during the coming weekend.
Prosecutors say Cliven Bundy conspired to thwart the government’s roundup of roughly 1,000 cows from public land near Bunkerville in April 2014. Two of his sons, Ryan Bundy and Ammon Bundy, as well as Payne and independent broadcaster Pete Santilli, are also scheduled to go to trial next Tuesday.
The five enlisted self-styled militia members to prevent the agents from enforcing court orders to remove the Bundy cattle from what is now Gold Butte National Monument, prosecutors allege. They each face 15 charges including conspiracy, assault and threats against federal officers, firearms counts, obstruction and extortion.
Two others, O. Scott Drexler and Eric Parker, will also be on trial, their third prosecution. Drexler will face charges of assault on a federal officer, threatening a federal officer and two related counts of use of a firearm, while Drexler will face charges of assault on a federal officer and brandishing a firearm. The two were acquitted on other charges at two earlier trials.
The saturation news coverage of the Las Vegas slaughter and justified praise for the first responders, including the FBI and Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, will also prevent jurors from fairly weighing the credibility of government witnesses at the Bundy trial, Payne’s lawyers argue.
Lombardo, who was present near the Toquop Wash during the standoff, will likely testify for federal prosecutors at trial.
“Only distance and the opportunity for personal and community healing can achieve” a fair trial, the motion says. “No amount of voir dire questioning – and no jury instructions, however well crafted – break the link in jurors’ minds between the events of last night and the images of men with rifles that the government will present to the jury.”
Paddock rained gunfire upon an estimated 22,000 festivalgoers along the Las Vegas strip from his 32nd-floor room at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino.
“In time, the community’s justified shock and outrage about this tragedy may subside enough to allow a fair trial,” Payne’s lawyers wrote. “Right now, however, the wounds are too fresh. Justice requires a continuance.”
U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro has yet to rule on Payne’s motion.