Judge declares mistrial in Bundy Ranch case, By Robert Angien 4/24/17, The Republic
The case will be retried in June and will delay the trial of Cliven Bundy and other standoff leaders.
A federal judge declared a mistrial Monday after jurors deadlocked in the case of six men accused of taking up arms against federal agents during the Bundy Ranch standoff in 2014.
Jurors convicted two defendants on multiple counts but could not reach a unanimous verdict against four others. Jurors told lawyers after court Monday they never came close to convicting four defendants, voting 10-2 in favor of acquitting two and splitting on the others, according to one of the defense lawyers.
Moreover, jurors did not find any of the six defendants guilty on the two main conspiracy charges that made up the core of the government's case, dealing a blow to federal prosecutors who have not won a clear victory against Bundy defendants in three separate trials.
"They thought there wasn't enough evidence," Las Vegas lawyer Shawn Perez told The Arizona Republic. "At one point, they voted not guilty for two (defendants)."
Perez, who represents Richard Lovelien of Oklahoma, said jurors told him they didn't believe some government witnesses were credible and they were unmoved by Acting Nevada U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre, who argued defendants were armed vigilantes.
"They didn't feel as if the government's closing was that impactful," Perez said. Federal prosecutors declined comment Monday, citing ongoing litigation. The six men were described by prosecutors as the least culpable of 17 defendants charged with conspiracy, extortion, assault and obstruction for helping rancher Cliven Bundy fend off a government roundup of his cattle in what became known as the Battle of Bunkerville. Their trial was supposed to serve as a strategic springboard for prosecutors; it was the first of three separate trials scheduled in the Bundy Ranch case.
U.S. District Court Judge Gloria Navarro ruled Monday the four men will be retried beginning June 26. Navarro's decision will delay the planned start of the second trial, which will feature Cliven Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy and two others described by prosecutors as the leaders of the standoff. The jury told Navarro on Monday morning that it was "hopelessly deadlocked" and could not reach verdicts on the four defendants.
Navarro ordered jurors to continue deliberating to see if they could reach additional verdicts. But just before 1 p.m., she declared a mistrial and excused the jurors.
Jurors found Gregory Burleson of Arizona guilty on eight charges, including threatening and assaulting a federal officer, obstruction, interstate travel in aid of extortion and brandishing a weapon. Burleson told a video crew after the standoff that he'd gone to the Bundy Ranch to kill federal agents. The video crew was made up of undercover FBI agents. Jurors found Todd Engel of Idaho guilty of obstruction and interstate travel in aid of extortion.
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. Trial began in February: Jurors began deliberating April 13 after two months of testimony involving 35 prosecution and four defense witnesses.
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.
The Bundy family issued a social-media battle cry. 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.
After the BLM abandoned the roundup, the standoff was hailed as a victory by militia members. 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. A second federal jury in Oregon delivered a split verdict against four others in March, acquitting two men on conspiracy charges and convicting two others. No arrests were made in the Bundy Ranch case until after the Oregon siege ended.
The BLM abandoned the roundup because they were afraid they were going to die, federal prosecutors told jurors. They said law-enforcement officers were surrounded and outgunned in a dusty arroyo beneath Interstate 15 where they had penned the cattle.
Local, state and federal law-enforcement officers testified they were afraid they would be shot or be drawn into a bloody shooting war with unarmed men, women and children in the crossfire.
For many, the standoff was represented by a single iconic photograph of a figure 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.
But jurors in Las Vegas couldn't agree on whether the man in that picture, Eric Parker of Idaho, brandished a weapon, assaulted officers or even posed a threat to them.
Attorney: Jury questioned conspiracy charges. Perez said jurors told him they had trouble linking the six men to the government's alleged conspiracy. He said jurors referenced his own closing arguments, in which he described the case against his client as a game of "Where's Waldo?".
"Jurors used my 'Where's Waldo?'. That's the truth," Perez said, adding jurors couldn't put some defendants on the overpass or in the wash when the standoff reached its climax. "They didn't know where (defendants) were."
Jurors agreed federal prosecutors tried to paint all of the defendants with the same brush and did not establish cases against them as individuals, Perez said.
Perez said all six defendants were pleased with the verdict, but recognized that Engel and Burleson face lengthy prison sentences.
Lovelien and Steven Stewart, of Idaho, came the closest of the six defendants to being found not guilty, Perez said. Jurors told him at one point last week they voted to acquit the two men but two jurors changed their minds when they returned to court Monday, he said.
Perez said jurors told them they were more evenly split on verdicts against Parker and O. Scott Drexler, also of Idaho. "Now I will see if I can deal him out on a misdemeanor," Perez said of Lovelien. "I don't think (prosecutors) can get a guilty verdict ... I'm confident I'm going to get a not-guilty verdict."
No information was presented in court to explain what led prosecutors to file charges against the six men out of the hundreds of protesters at the Bundy Ranch. Lawyers said their clients were singled because of comments they made online and in interviews before and after the standoff.
Defendants denied they conspired to help Bundy and told jurors the case had nothing to do with cattle. They said they came to protect the public from overzealous and aggressive law-enforcement officers. Defendants said they were moved to join Bundy after seeing internet images of officers throwing an elderly woman to the ground, loosing dogs on one of Bundy's sons and shocking protesters with a stun guns.
Defense lawyers attempted to cast the case as a constitutional issue and said their clients were exercising their First Amendment right to assemble and Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Judge limits witnesses, arguments by defense attorneys - Navarro would not allow the defense to argue about constitutional protections to the jury. Navarro also prevented the defense from calling a string of witnesses about what happened in the run-up to the standoff, ruling they could only testify about what happened on the final day of the standoff. Federal prosecutors argued defendants joined a conspiracy when they knowingly agreed to help Bundy resist federal agents in the roundup of the cattle.
Myhre challenged suggestions that defendants were exercising constitutional rights. He said the First Amendment right to free speech does not allow you to threaten officers and the Second Amendment right to bear arms doesn't give you the right to threaten someone with a gun.
"These people took the law into their own hands and used guns to take something that didn't belong to them," he said. Perez said jurors clearly didn't agree. "Now we start the trial all over again," he said. "I don't think we are going to change our strategy."