By Ken Ritter, Associated Press
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A federal judge offered to release a rancher and states’ rights figure from custody during his trial on charges involving an armed standoff that stopped a government cattle roundup three years ago in Nevada.
But Cliven Bundy refused to leave jail while others are still behind bars awaiting trial in the case.
Bundy, 71, didn’t state his reason in court Wednesday. But his wife, Carol Bundy, noted in a courthouse hallway that two other sons, Mel and David Bundy, are approaching two years in federal detention.
“It’s not over. It’s not done,” she said.
Defense attorney Brett Whipple told reporters Cliven Bundy is a “very principled man.”
The family patriarch could have joined son Ammon Bundy and co-defendant Ryan Payne in being freed during the trial. U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro said they can be released Thursday to house arrest with GPS monitoring at homes of Bundy family friends.
The judge also relaxed release restrictions for the eldest Bundy son, Ryan Bundy, who has been living for two weeks at a halfway house while serving as his own attorney. He will still have a GPS monitor but can split time between a friends’ home in North Las Vegas and his own home in Mesquite.
The hearing came amid questions from defense teams about whether federal prosecutors have turned over complete evidence records about the conduct of FBI and other government agents during the standoff.
Navarro did not say why she reversed her previous detention ruling.
Her decision Wednesday followed a four-hour, closed hearing with prosecutors, defense attorneys, court security officers and the four defendants.
“There’s a lot of allegations that remain, a lot of information that’s provided,” the judge said cryptically from the bench.
Jurors got a glimpse of the claims when Ryan Bundy spoke during his opening statement about government snipers and surveillance cameras on dusty hilltops surrounding his family home in the days before armed supporters arrived.
Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre has cast the standoff as an armed uprising, not a peaceful protest.
He said it forced the federal Bureau of Land Management “at the end of a gun” to abandon plans to impound Bundy’s cattle.
Each defendant faces 15 felony charges including assault and threats against federal officers, obstruction and extortion. Convictions could carry sentences of more than 170 years in prison.
Outside court Wednesday, Ammon Bundy’s lawyer, Daniel Hill, hinted that the case was tilting against prosecutors, who had sought to delay starting the trial to sort out the evidence questions.
Whipple said he could not disclose what happened at the hearing, citing a gag order that was opposed by The Associated Press and other news organizations.
Navarro’s order means Ammon Bundy and Ryan Payne could walk out of federal detention for the first time since their arrests nearly two years ago outside Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon where they led an occupation.
Payne, head of a self-styled militia group from Montana, needs clearance from a federal judge in Oregon to be released.
In that case, Payne pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge before a trial at which Ammon and Ryan Bundy were acquitted of all charges. Payne is now fighting to withdraw his plea that is expected to bring a sentence of more than three years in prison.