Aug 22, 2017
A federal jury in Las Vegas did not return any guilty verdicts Tuesday against four men accused of taking up arms against federal agents during the Bundy Ranch standoff in 2014.
Jurors dealt government prosecutors a stinging defeat in the case when, after four days of deliberations, they returned not-guilty verdicts on the most serious charges and deadlocked on a handful of others.
Richard Lovelien of Oklahoma and Steven Stewart of Idaho were acquitted on all counts and walked out of court Tuesday night free after spending more than a year in prison.
“Both Ricky and I were teary-eyed,” Las Vegas defense lawyer Shawn Perez said of the verdict, “I was shaking … I have gotten not-guilty verdicts before, but this was really special to me.”
Two other defendants, Eric Parker and O. Scott Drexler, both of Idaho, were acquitted on the most serious charges of conspiracy and extortion, but jurors failed to reach unanimous verdicts on weapons and assault charges.
Both men could be allowed to go free after a detention hearing scheduled Wednesday morning. The court ordered both defendants to be released to a halfway house until Wednesday’s hearing.
“(Parker) is getting released as we speak,” Las Vegas defense lawyer Jess Marchese said Tuesday night. “He’s ecstatic.”
After the jury’s decision, U.S. District Court Judge Gloria Navarro called for the hearing without any motions from the defense, Marchese said. “We didn’t bring it up,” he said.
Federal prosecutors had little to say about the verdicts.
“While we are disappointed with the verdicts, we thank the jurors for their service,” Trisha Young, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Las Vegas, said in a statement Tuesday. “At this time, the government has not announced its decision regarding the retrial of Eric Parker and O. Scott Drexler.”
Government loses 2nd case
This marks the second time a jury failed to convict the defendants on charges related to the standoff, which pitted armed ranchers and militia members against Bureau of Land Management agents in a dusty wash below Interstate 15 about 70 miles north of Las Vegas.
Social media exploded with posts on Twitter and Facebook from Bundy supporters, many of whom have maintained a sidewalk rally since the first trial of these defendants opened in February.
Jurors in the second trial notified Navarro on Tuesday they had reached an impasse on several counts. The defendants were called into court at 2 p.m. when the verdicts were announced.
The men were being retried on conspiracy, extortion, assault and obstruction charges for helping Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy fend off a government roundup of his cattle in what became known as the Battle of Bunkerville.
A jury in April deadlocked on charges against the four men. It convicted two other defendants on multiple counts. But it could not agree on conspiracy charges — a key component of the government’s case — against any of the six.
The government launched its second prosecution last month. The case climaxed Aug. 11 when Navarro abruptly ended court by ordering Parker off the stand and striking his testimony from the record as jurors watched.
The defendant was attempting to tell jurors what he saw during the standoff over a barrage of objections from prosecutors. Navarro ruled Parker violated court orders by discussing prohibited topics. Parker returned to the defense table and started crying while Navarro dismissed the jurors.
Marchese said jurors told him Tuesday the incident was a factor in their verdicts.
“That weighed heavily in their decision,” Marchese said. “They wanted to hear him speak. It was very bothersome to them. They felt like they weren’t getting the whole story.”
Marchese said jurors were sympathetic to the defendants and their inability to mount a cogent defense in light of restrictions that prevented them from talking about why they participated in the standoff and what they were thinking while they were there.
“It wasn’t one thing,” Marchese said about what led to their verdicts. “They (jurors) said it didn’t make sense.”
The case went to the jury Tuesday after lawyers for all four defendants waived closing arguments as part of a protest about court proceedings and restrictive legal rulings.
“The jurors knew our hands were tied,” Perez said. “By the time the government laid it all out for them, they had already made up their minds … They knew there was no reason for us to go farther.”
Perez said the government’s string of witnesses, largely composed of local, state and federal law-enforcement officers, became both repetitive and contradictory, according to jurors.
“They were bored to death,” Perez said.
Judge’s restrictions on the defense
Navarro’s rulings, aimed at trying to avoid jury nullification, severely limited defense arguments. Jury nullification occurs when a jury returns a verdict based on its shared belief rather than on the evidence in a case.
Navarro barred defendants from discussing why they traveled thousands of miles to join protesters at the Bundy Ranch. She did not allow them to testify about perceived abuses by federal authorities during the cattle roundup that might have motivated them to participate.
Navarro also restricted defendants from raising constitutional arguments, or mounting any defense based on their First Amendment rights to free speech and their Second Amendment rights to bear arms. In her rulings, Navarro said those were not applicable arguments in the case.
Federal officials did not face the same restrictions. To show defendants were part of a conspiracy, they referenced events that happened months, or years, after the standoff.
Federal prosecutors, led by Acting Nevada U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre, argued in court the case wasn’t about the First or Second Amendments; that the Constitution doesn’t give people the right to threaten federal officers.
They said the Bundys’ dispute with the BLM was adjudicated and the court issued a lawful order to round up the cattle. When ranchers and the militia conspired to force the release of the cattle, they broke the law, prosecutors argued.
Battle over federal land use
The Bundy Ranch standoff is one of the most high-profile land-use cases in modern Western history, pitting cattle ranchers, anti-government protesters and militia members against the Bureau of Land Management.
For decades, the BLM repeatedly ordered Bundy to remove his cattle from federal lands and in 2014 obtained a court order to seize his cattle as payment for more than $1 million in unpaid grazing fees.
Hundreds of supporters from every state in the union, including members of several militia groups, converged on his ranch about 70 miles north of Las Vegas.
The standoff was hailed as a victory by militia members. Cliven Bundy’s sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, cited their success at Bundy Ranch in their run-up to the siege of an Oregon wildlife refuge in 2016, also in protest of BLM policies. An Oregon federal jury acquitted Ammon, Ryan and five others in October.
No arrests were made in the Bundy Ranch case until after the Oregon siege ended.
Last year, the government charged 19 people for their roles in the Nevada standoff. Two men took plea deals. Trials for the remaining defendants were broken into three tiers based on their alleged levels of culpability in the standoff.
Although defendants in the first trial and the retrial were considered the least culpable, all 17 defendants face the same charges. Those convicted could spend the rest of their lives in prison.
The second trial will include Cliven Bundy and his sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, who are considered ringleaders.
Weapons charges outstanding
All four defendants in the retrial admitted bringing guns to the standoff. But pictures of Parker and Drexler aiming their weapons went viral.
An image of Parker has come to epitomize the 2014 protest. He is pictured lying prone on an overpass and sighting a long rifle at BLM agents in the wash below. The image galvanized the public and brought international awareness to the feud over public lands and the potential consequences of such a dispute.
Drexler took the stand and delivered the only defense testimony that jurors were allowed to consider.
He testified that even though he brought weapons to the standoff, he had no intention of threatening or assaulting law-enforcement officers.
Marchese said if the government decides to retry Parker and Drexler on the outstanding charges, it will likely be after all the standoff trials are concluded. For now, Parker plans on returning to Idaho and to go back to work as an electrician.
Marchese said despite the unresolved charges, he and his client are satisfied with the outcome.
“Any not guiltys are always good, right?” he said.
Cliven Bundy followers found not guilty in armed standoff case
Aug 23, 2017 BY JOHN BOWDEN
Four defenders of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy have been found not guilty of numerous charges relating to their 2014 armed demonstration to stop a government-led cattle roundup.
The Arizona Republic reported Tuesday that Scott Drexler, Ricky Lovelien, Eric Parker and Steven Stewart were found not guilty on multiple charges, including conspiracy, assault on a federal officer, extortion and weapons law violations related to the standoff with federal authorities. The jury deadlocked on four charges for Parker and two against Drexler, according to the newspaper, meaning they could face a retrial.
Defense attorney Shawn Perez told the Republic after the verdict that he was “shaking” and “teary-eyed.”
“Both Ricky and I were teary-eyed,” Perez said. “I was shaking … I have gotten not guilty verdicts before, but this was really special to me.”
The standoff occurred when federal authorities obtained a court order to seize Bundy’s cattle in 2014 for decades of unpaid grazing fees that totaled more than $1 million. Instead, hundreds of supporters converged from around the country to begin an armed standoff with authorities, which resulted in the government backing down.
In 2015, the federal government charged 19 people, including the four defendants cleared Tuesday, for their roles in the standoff. The next trial, according to the Republic, will include Bundy and his two sons.
Federal prosecutors told the Republic they were “disappointed” by the jury’s decision in the case.
“While we are disappointed with the verdicts, we thank the jurors for their service,” said Trisha Young, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Las Vegas. “At this time, the government has not announced its decision regarding the retrial of Eric Parker and O. Scott Drexler.”
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