PHOENIX — A federal jury in Las Vegas did not return any guilty verdicts Tuesday against four men accused of conspiracy and weapons charges for their roles in the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff.
Jurors returned not guilty verdicts on some counts and deadlocked on others after four days of deliberation, delivering a second surprising defeat to federal prosecutors in the case.
Jurors notified U.S. District Court Judge Gloria Navarro on Tuesday that they had reached an impasse on several counts, and the defendants were called into court at 2 p.m. when the verdicts were returned.
Richard Lovelien of Oklahoma and Eric Parker, Steven Stewart and O. Scott Drexler, all of Idaho, were being retried on conspiracy, extortion, assault and obstruction charges for helping Cliven Bundy fend off a government roundup of his cattle in what became known as the Battle of Bunkerville.
From AZ Central:
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.
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.
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.
A jury in April deadlocked on charges against the four men. It convicted two other defendants on multiple counts. But the jury 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 ended dramatically last week, when defense attorneys waived closing arguments as part of a protest about court proceedings and legal rulings they said prevented them from offering a proper defense.
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.
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.
Three trials are scheduled for 17 defendants who are being prosecuted 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 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.