Land poli­cies to be tested in trial

Yuma Sun - - NEWS -

LAS VE­GAS — Ne­vada rancher Cliven Bundy was cast Tues­day as the leader of a con­spir­acy to en­list armed mili­tia mem­bers to force the fed­eral agents, “at the end of a gun,” to aban­don ef­forts to col­lect his cat­tle from pub­lic range­land.

As the long-awaited trial opened in Las Ve­gas, act­ing U.S. At­tor­ney Steven Myhre re­jected sup­port­ers’ char­ac­ter­i­za­tions of the 71-year-old Bundy, sons Ryan and Am­mon Bundy and co-de­fen­dant Ryan Payne as peace­ful protesters and states’ rights free­dom fight­ers.

“This case is not about protest­ing. This case is about break­ing the law,” Myhre told a jury that con­vened af­ter a one-week delay to hear a case that Chief U.S. District Judge Glo­ria Navarro has told them could take four months.

“This is not a case about cat­tle graz­ing,” Myhre said. “It’s about whether you use force and vi­o­lence to en­force your be­lief.”

The pros­e­cu­tor used his open­ing state­ment to cast as lit­tle more than ex­tor­tion and theft the April 12, 2014, armed stand­off that led the fed­eral Bureau of Land Man­age­ment to aban­don round­ing up Bundy cat­tle and re­lease al­most 400 cows.

“They got what they wanted that day,” he told the jury. “They got it at the end of a gun.”

De­fense at­tor­neys were due up next be­fore the fed­eral jury in Las Ve­gas. They’ve said the four men didn’t con­spire with any­one and didn’t wield weapons — and that no shots were fired in the stand­off near Bunkerville, about 80 miles north­east of Las Ve­gas.

Cliven Bundy’s lawyer, Bret Whip­ple, was ex­pected say the stand­off amounted to a peace­ful protest in­volv­ing like-minded states’ rights sup­port­ers.

Each de­fen­dant faces 15 felony counts on nine charges in­clud­ing con­spir­acy, as­sault and threats against fed­eral of­fi­cers, firearms counts, ob­struc­tion and ex­tor­tion. Stacked to­gether, con­vic­tions on all charges carry the pos­si­bil­ity of more than 170 years in prison.

The trial sets up as a test of pub­lic land poli­cies in West­ern U.S. states like Ne­vada, where the fed­eral govern­ment con­trols about 85 per­cent of the land and ju­ries have twice balked at full con­vic­tions of men who had guns dur­ing the tense April 2014 con­fronta­tion.

Bundy ar­gues that his fam­ily has used the same pub­lic range for more than a cen­tury, and the land be­longs to the state not the U.S. Bureau of Land Man­age­ment.

The trial is ex­pected to be con­tentious. Bundy, his sons and Payne have been jailed since early 2016, and each re­fused to en­ter a plea say­ing he didn’t rec­og­nize the author­ity of the govern­ment. A mag­is­trate judge en­tered not-guilty pleas for them.

The trial start was post­poned one week amid a fight about whether pros­e­cu­tors prop­erly dis­closed ev­i­dence about sur­veil­lance cam­eras watch­ing the Bundy homestead. Navarro de­clined on Tues­day to delay it an­other week at Myhre’s re­quest to al­low lawyers to re­view emails to an­swer ques­tions raised dur­ing closed-door ar­gu­ments about FBI con­duct dur­ing the two-week cat­tle im­pound op­er­a­tion.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

IN THIS APRIL 12, 2014, FILE PHOTO rancher Cliven Bundy, top cen­ter, ad­dresses his sup­port­ers along side Clark County Sher­iff Doug Gille­spie, right, while be­ing guarded by self-de­scribed mili­tia mem­bers in the fore­ground.

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