The Bundy family’s fight against the federal government has created headaches for at least one agency, the Justice Department, which returned to court Monday badly in need of a guilty verdict after a series of misfires in its pursuit of the Nevada ranching family.
Jury selection began in the retrial of four Bundy supporters—Eric Parker, O. Scott Drexler, Richard Lovelien and Steven Stewart—after jurors deadlocked in April on charges stemming from the 2014 standoff with the Bureau of Land Management at the Bundy ranch near Bunkerville.
The hung jury came as the second setback for prosecutors. Six months earlier, an Oregon jury found seven defendants, including Ammon and Ryan Bundy, not guilty of charges stemming from the January 2016 occupation of a vacant building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
The Las Vegas jury found two defendants guilty on lesser charges but deadlocked on the more serious conspiracy counts.
Bret Whipple, attorney for Cliven Bundy, said the prosecution’s determination to retry the defendants despite the mistrial comes as evidence that the case is being driven by political considerations rather than the strength of the case.
“It’s very clear to me and my client that it has nothing to do with any criminal issues. It’s completely political,” said Mr. Whipple. “I’m not sure why the U.S. Attorney’s office is doing the things they’ve done, but it appears to be purely political to me.”
Eighteen defendants, including Cliven Bundy and his sons Ammon and Ryan, are scheduled to be tried in three tiers on more than a dozen counts, including conspiracy, based on their involvement in the April 2014 standoff.
Prosecutors have charged the group with conspiring against the federal government, but Mr. Whipple described the prosecution as overkill, describing the confrontation as a “political protest.”
Hundreds of Bundy supporters, some of them armed, flocked to the ranch after the BLM said it would confiscate the family’s cattle for refusing to pay grazing fees to the federal government in a show of protest against public-lands policy.
“I mean, come on. No shots were fired. Nobody was hurt. It was a political protest,” Mr. Whipple said. “This is completely a political backlash.”
Prosecutors have argued that the defendants brandished firearms in order to intimidate BLM agents, forcing them to stop the cattle impoundment over fears for their safety.
One of those involved in the Nevada clash, Gerald DeLemus of New Hampshire, was sentenced in May to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to a conspiracy count and interstate travel in aid of extortion. He had tried unsuccessfully to change his plea after the acquittal in Oregon.
“DeLemus admitted that when he traveled to Nevada, he joined in a conspiracy with Bundy and others to display force and aggression in order to influence federal law enforcement, thereby impeding or interfering with law enforcement’s official duties,” said the May 31 statement.
The government may have an easier time proving their case the second time. In a Sunday ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Gloria Navarro said the defense cannot make references to “Cliven Bundy’s grazing, water, or legacy rights on the public lands,” or infringements on their clients’ First and Second Amendment rights.
The judge, who characterized such arguments as irrelevant, also prohibited defense attorneys from discussing jury nullification.
“Defendants’ state of mind regarding their beliefs or why they were present in Bunkerville, Nevada, on April 12, 2014, is not relevant to the charged offenses or the allowed mere presence defense,” said Ms. Navarro in her decision.
Cliven Bundy and his sons are expected to be tried before the end of the year, with the third tier scheduled to appear in court next year.
Two weeks ago, the Justice Department saw one of its own indicted when an FBI agent was accused of lying to investigators about firing his weapon in January 2016 during the Oregon occupation.
The agent, W. Joseph Astarita, of the FBI’s hostage-rescue team, was charged with making false statements and obstruction during the investigation into the confrontation at an Oregon roadblock that saw Oregon State Police shoot and kill 54-year-old Robert LaVoy Finicum.
U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams said the discovery that the agent had fired his weapon had no bearing on the shooting, which had been ruled justified, but the indictment came as a blot on the FBI’s reputation in its dealings with the Bundy-led protesters.
Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson blasted the agent, saying he had “damaged the integrity of the entire law enforcement profession, which makes me both disappointed and angry.”
Mr. Finicum’s widow, Jeanette, praised Mr. Williams for the pursuing the case. “I applaud the U.S. Attorney for doing this,” she said. “Nobody is above the law.”
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