High stakes as Bundy squares off against government
The stakes were high as jury selection began last week in the 2014 Bundy ranch standoff, not just for ringleader Cliven Bundy but also for federal prosecutors pursuing a badly needed guilty verdict after being stiffarmed by juries in Nevada and Oregon.
Mr. Bundy, 71, and three co-defendants face the possibility of up to 170 years in prison if convicted on all 15 counts, including conspiracy, assault, obstruction of justice and firearms violations for their roles in the armed confrontation over grazing rights with the Bureau of Land Management near Bunkerville, Nevada.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department is seeking to put to rest accusations that it overcharged the Bundy defendants during the Obama administration in an act of political retaliation, an accusation that picked up steam after previous jury trials ended in mistrials or acquittals.
Carol Bundy, Cliven Bundy’s wife, said outside the Las Vegas courthouse that the trial amounted to her family against “an overreaching government, good against evil.”
“Today my feelings are mixed. I’m ready for my family to have their day in court. I’m excited for the truth to be told,” Mrs. Bundy said in a video posted on the Bundy Ranch page on Facebook.
The latest trial, the third in a series involving a total of 17 defendants, features the four men deemed most culpable in the April 2014 standoff: Mr. Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and Ryan Payne.
The Bundys, who have been in custody in Oregon and Nevada for nearly two years and have protested their confinement, wore their red jail scrubs for the first day of jury selection.
“My attire is my choice today,” Ryan Bundy said after being questioned by the judge, The Associated Press reported.
“Yeah. I think they look pretty good,” said Ammon Bundy.
Federal prosecutors have argued that Cliven Bundy led a “massive armed assault against federal law enforcement,” while he has argued that the 200-plus supporters who turned up in a show of protest against the BLM’s effort to seize his cattle did so of their own volition.
They arrived after the agency moved to impound 400 head of cattle as a result of Mr. Bundy’s refusal to pay $1.2 million in grazing fees to the federal government, which he has described as a protest against public-lands policy.
Not helping the prosecution are unforced errors by related agencies. The FBI has come under criticism from defense attorneys and media outlets for infiltrating the Bundy compound with agents posing as a film crew and trying to goad participants into making inflammatory statements.
Daniel Love, the special agent in charge of the Bundy standoff, left the BLM last month after federal investigators found that he handed out valuable stones held as evidence to colleagues and contractors, used his clout to obtain Burning Man tickets and deleted emails requested by Congress.
Two other defendants, O. Scott Drexler and Eric Parker, have gone to trial twice this year. Prosecutors opted to try them for a third time after the jury deadlocked Aug. 22 on several counts while finding them not guilty of most charges.
The same jury acquitted another two men, Richard Lovelien and Steven Stewart, on all counts, prompting Bundy supporters to call on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to drop the charges against the remaining defendants.
Several of those involved in the Nevada showdown have entered into plea deals, but prosecutors have yet to hook any of the big fish, namely the members of the Bundy family.
The Justice Department’s biggest win to date came with the jury’s split verdict in April on Greg Burleson and Todd Engel, who were acquitted of conspiracy but found guilty of eight felony counts, including obstruction of justice and interstate aid in travel.
U.S. District Court Judge Gloria Navarro sentenced the 53-year-old Burleson, who is legally blind and uses a wheelchair, to 68 years in prison for his involvement, which included brandishing a long gun and posting threatening anti-government messages on Facebook.
Burleson was also one of those interviewed by the undercover FBI film crew. Asked what would have happened if federal agents crossed the perimeter surrounding the ranch, he replied, “Dead bodies. Literally.”
Cliven Bundy led a “massive armed assault against federal law enforcement,” federal prosecutors say, when he was confronted over grazing rights with the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada.