One of the trials stemming from the 2014 standoff at the Nevada ranch of Cliven Bundy finally came to an end today.
This is the background.
The federal government charged seventeen persons including Cliven Bundy and his two sons with an impressive array of felonies. As best I can tell, one defendant has pleaded guilty (sentenced to 7 years) and two others were convicted. One of the two convicted, an FBI informant named Gregory Burleson, got 68 years and the other, Todd Engel, has yet to be sentenced but faces 30 or so years.
The jury that convicted Burleson and Engel failed to reach a verdict on four other defendants. They were tried again beginning July 11 and today the verdicts came in:
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.
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.
This was a pretty amazing outcome as the judge, Barack Obama appointed Gloria Navarro, seemed intent upon depriving the defendants of a reasonable chance of defending themselves. She ruled that nothing that happened before the events charged in the indictment could be mentioned so, for the jury, the case begins with the standoff between Bundy and his allies and federal officers. Without the context of some calculatedly egregious provocations on the part of the Bureau of Land Management as a prelude, the defense counsel elected to not make closing arguments in protest.
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.
Essentially, the jury rejected the government’s case without a defense.