Las Vegas • Armed assault and lawful protest were the opposing scenarios presented to a federal jury hearing the retrial in Las Vegas of four men who bore assault-style weapons during a standoff that stopped government agents from rounding up Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s cattle in April 2014.
Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre displayed photos and told jurors during opening statements on Monday that evidence will show the defendants used what he called “the working end of a rifle barrel” to bend the law to their will, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported (http://bit.ly/2tmyc09 ).
“These four defendants got on a bridge, armed with semi-automatic rifles, and threatened to shoot law enforcement officers who stood below them in a wash,” Myhre said as he urged the jurors to focus on the conspiracy, assault on a federal agent, weapon and other charges against the defendants.
Defense attorney Richard Tanasi, representing Idaho resident Steven Stewart, countered that the defendants were just individuals protesting the U.S. government.
“This case is about standing up for what you believe in. Nothing more, nothing less,” Tanasi said.
The defense openings represented a condensed version of statements that attorneys gave in February, at the onset of a trial that resulted in a jury finding two co-defendants guilty in April of some charges, but failing to reach verdicts for Scott Drexler, Richard Lovelien, Eric Parker and Stewart.
Rulings since then by Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro have barred the defense from referencing constitutional rights to freely assemble and to bear arms.
Defense attorneys are also barred from mentioning alleged misconduct or excessive force by law enforcement.
Those arguments represented the core of the defense case in the first trial, as lawyers said their clients came from other states to Bunkerville, Nevada, after viewing online postings depicting law enforcement officers using stun guns and police dogs to control angry protesters and Bundy family members.
Defense attorney Todd Leventhal, representing Drexler, told the jury on Monday that his client “saw images that shocked his conscience” and traveled from Idaho to Nevada because he believes “no man is above the law, badge or not.”
Attorney Shawn Perez, who represents Lovelien, noted that “not a shot was fired, not a bottle was thrown, not a rock was thrown” during the standoff, and that “nobody was injured, and everyone went home.”
Myhre accused the four men of conspiring with Bundy to thwart the federal government’s roundup of roughly 1,000 cows from public land.
The cattle impoundment operation followed a decades-long dispute over grazing rights that pitted Cliven Bundy against the Bureau of Land Management.
Both sides on Monday characterized the grazing dispute as peripheral to the trial.
The men are charged with conspiracy, extortion, threats, assault, obstruction of justice, and weapons counts. If convicted of all counts, they face a mandatory minimum sentence of 57 years in prison.
Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan, and two other defendants are due for trial later this year. Six others, including two other Bundy sons, are slated for trial next year.