Perspectives: The Bunkerville trial, what a modern lynching looks like

Federal Judge Gloria Navarro (left); sign at the Bundy Ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada (right) | Composite image, St. George News

OPINION – Our news cycle was dominated this past week by the birth announcement of a destructive, tantrum-prone love child sired by masked socialist activists and their national socialist counterparts.

While the public’s attention is focused on whether this little monster looks more like its mother or its father, a very real injustice is taking place just out of view.

In this 2014 AP file photo, rancher Cliven Bundy, flanked by armed supporters, speaks at a protest camp near Bunkerville, Nevada, April 18, 2014. | AP file photo by John Locher/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP, St. George News

The highly publicized, and sometimes blatantly distorted, narrative of events at Bundy Ranch three years ago made the Bundys a household name. No matter which version you choose to believe, it’s safe to say that what happened at Bunkerville was likely the most significant act of armed civil disobedience in the past 150 years.

The fact that it was done without bloodshed is rightly considered a miracle by many who were there.

Naturally, the federal government took a very dim view of being backed down by a bunch of mere citizens. Indictments were issued against 19 individuals accused of being part of a criminal conspiracy against the government.

The trial of these defendants was put on hold while brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, along with five other co-defendants, first stood trial in Oregon for their January 2016 occupation of a wildlife refuge. Federal prosecutors were incensed when the jury in that trial delivered a stunning acquittal of all seven defendants on charges of conspiracy against the federal government.

Read more: Jury acquits Bundys and five other defendants charged with conspiring against the federal government

As the focus shifted to the trial of the first four defendants in Vegas, prosecutors and federal judge Gloria Navarro did everything in their power to tip the scales in favor of the government’s case.

Amazingly, the jury deadlocked and Navarro was forced to declare a mistrial.

What makes this noteworthy is that winning a conviction at the federal level is like shooting fish in a barrel. Well over 90 percent of those charged criminally by the feds end up pleading guilty without going to trial. Of those who go to trial, only a tiny percentage are found not guilty.

This is understandable when considering the virtually unlimited resources and manpower the federal government can bring to bear against someone upon whom its wrath is focused.

With all of these factors working in the government’s favor, convincing a jury that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt shouldn’t be that difficult. Judge Navarro appears to be taking no chances in the current retrial.

She seems to have forgotten that the jury’s job is not to punish on the state’s behalf. It is to see to it that justice is done by ensuring the government proves its case and due process is strictly and fairly observed.

With this in mind, Navarro has turned the concepts of a fair trial and justice on their head by denying the jury essential information that was provided in the first trial. She has suppressed evidence and testimony that would provide context – what the defendants saw, their intent and state of mind and any explanation of their actions at Bunkerville.

A complete breakdown of the scope of Navarro’s restrictions on the defense can be read here.

Setting aside whatever knee-jerk reaction you may or may not have to hearing the name “Bundy,” does this sound like the actions of an impartial judge who is representing the cause of justice? Or does it sound like the machinations of a vengeful functionary who is determined to win at any cost?

Jurors have been allowed to hear weeks of tedious, redundant and often contradictory testimony from the prosecution. Meanwhile, the defense has been figuratively bound and gagged at every turn.

Even when jurors, trying to get a clearer understanding, have posed specific questions to the judge, she has donned the persona of a slippery used car salesman who simply smiles and says, “Trust me.”

How can the jury render an impartial decision when they are denied facts that may point to serious deficiencies in the government’s case?

Jeremy Snow, a prosecutor and criminal defense attorney who has seen hundreds of trials, states that Navarro’s approach is anything but standard. Snow writes:

They have a right to explain why they were there. It goes to their state of mind or mens rea, one of the things the prosecution has to prove against them, and therefore one of the things they have a right to defend against. By denying them that right, she is literally denying them the right to a fair trial.

Observers in the courtroom have noted that Navarro’s slanted approach to this trial has left some jurors visibly aghast at her antics. The nullification that Navarro so clearly fears may end up being the result of her own heavy-handedness in the courtroom.

Jurors in Oregon and in the first Nevada trial clearly heard more truth than prosecutors wanted them to hear. That’s why they wouldn’t convict.

Navarro seems determined to prevent that from happening again.

Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events viewed through the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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10 Comments

  • Lastdays August 21, 2017 at 7:31 am

    Heard Ammon Bundy speak on radio last week during a phone call from the jail.
    Nothing in his story or recount of events makes it sound like the Feds even have a case against them.
    Everything the Bundy’s did or have done in the past 20 years should not have resulted in the railroading the BLM and the Feds are giving them.
    Its obvious this issue did not fall into place like the Feds wanted and now their backs are against the wall and even the Judge is grasping for anything to save this case.
    Ammon read off ALL the evidence that the Judge will NOT allow in court. How can she even do that? They have pretty much yanked the rug from under the defense and all the evidence they have against the government. I hope the defense can somehow let the jury know what a kangaroo court this judge is running and hopefully they can help throw this case out.

  • Who August 21, 2017 at 8:05 am

    Very well said, Bryan.

  • desertgirl August 21, 2017 at 11:46 am

    The result of giving our liberties to a unwieldy, self-serving government body. Also, terrible asset forfeiture laws that corrupt many law enforcement officials.

    • Utahguns August 21, 2017 at 12:20 pm

      Correct Desertgirl…
      The main purpose of the Second Amendment is to give citizens the means to protect themselves from a tyrannical government. If we are embarrassed to state, loudly and clearly, what the Constitution actually says, then the case for liberty is lost by default.

  • DRT August 21, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    Sounds to me like this judge is just begging for an appeal, after the “guilty defendants,” (in her mind,) have actually been found guilty. This is something that any intelligent judge is going to guard against. No judge likes to have their decisions appealed, because of the chance of a reversal of their decisions. Makes me wonder what is going on here.

  • beacon August 21, 2017 at 12:40 pm

    Hyde would have done his readers more justice by including “why” the judge restricted the information. Also, calling this a “lynching” as shown in the title is more than a little hyperbole. Those who were lynched in the past I’m sure would have preferred what these folks for having to endure. Really!

    • bikeandfish August 21, 2017 at 1:25 pm

      Modern day lynching looks like lynching. It may be less common stateside but it has been documented through at least 2015. And no, the Bundy Trial is not a modern day lynching. You don’t get to file an appeal with well-paid lawyers when you are lynched. This headline and letter is abysmal and actually just a recycled reaction from other sources.

      Its a shame, as a thoughtful argument could be made about the issue of justice in the case and the perseverance it takes to support the right to a fair trial. Instead its blanketed in hyperbole. Ugh.

  • old school August 21, 2017 at 6:17 pm

    If our beloved “Federal Government” wasn’t so SLOW enacting in the first place, it wouldn’t be such a drama now. Anybody remember the Arizona rancher who shot at the kayaker’s? Bet he still has his guns!!!

    • Ladyk August 22, 2017 at 7:04 am

      Please tell us what evidence has been left out. I would love to hear the rest of the story.

  • LadyJfromUT August 27, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    I love living here in southern Utah. That is, until I read an opinion piece that this.
    Lynching? Really? No one is being lynched here! It gets so very tiring of hearing this never-ending whining and trying to make us all here a victim!
    These men broke the law, period. You don’t have to agree, but that is why we have representatives and legislators so you can work to change the laws- the right way.
    I believe they should be in convicted, but if they aren’t because of the incompetence of federal prosecutors, I won’t cry over it. I will say, however, that I have no idea why some people think it ok to point a weapon at federal agents or any number of other blantant crimes just because of their personal views on public lands or federal overreach.

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