Jury chooses not to convict in Nevada ranch standoff

FILE - Supporters and critics of defendants on trial for charges relating to a 2014 ranch standoff at the federal courthouse gather in Las Vegas. A federal jury in Las Vegas is deliberating again in the retrial of four men accused of wielding assault weapons against federal agents in a 2014 standoff near the Nevada ranch of anti-government figure Cliven Bundy. Jurors returned to work Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, after spending a little more than two days last week going over five weeks of evidence in the case against four defendants, las Vegas, Nevada, Aug. 21, 2017 | AP Photo/John Locher, FIle, St. George News

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A federal jury in Las Vegas Tuesday chose not  to convict four accused gunman in a 2014 standoff with federal authorities near the Nevada ranch of states’ rights figure Cliven Bundy.

In a verdict that delivered a stunning setback to federal prosecutors, the jury acquitted Ricky Lovelien and Steven Stewart of all 10 charges against them.

Defendants Scott Drexler and Eric Parker were found not guilty of most charges against them. The jury did not reach verdicts on four charges against Parker and two charges against Drexler.

The results stunned a courtroom full of the defendants’ supporters, many of whom broke into applause after Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro ordered Lovelien and Stewart freed immediately.

The judge set a hearing Wednesday to decide whether to free Parker and Drexler pending a decision by prosecutors whether to try them for a third time.

Prosecutors said the men conspired with Bundy family members and wielded weapons to threaten the lives of federal agents enforcing lawful court orders to remove Bundy cattle from public land after he failed to pay grazing fees.

Each man standing trial in Las Vegas faced 10 charges including conspiracy, interstate travel in aid of extortion, weapon possession and assault and threatening a federal officer.

Combined, the counts carried the possibility of more than 100 years in federal prison.

The four were among 19 men arrested in early 2016, nearly two years after the confrontation near the rural town of Bunkerville, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

All 19 remained in federal custody, despite pleas from family members and attorneys for the release of those who have not been brought to trial. Bundy’s attorney, Bret Whipple, notes that his client is now 71.

Bundy stopped paying grazing fees decades ago, saying he refused to recognize federal authority over public land where he said his family grazed cattle since before the U.S. Bureau of Land Management was created.

The dispute has roots a nearly half-century fight over public lands in Nevada and the West, where the federal government controls vast expanses of land.

File photo – Cliven Bundy during a press conference, Bunkerville, Nev., April 14, 2014 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Calls for action have grown louder and more frequent in recent years with internet bloggers protesting federal agency decisions to designate protected areas for endangered species and set aside tracts for mining, wind farms and natural gas exploration.

Prosecutors characterize the standoff as an armed uprising by self-styled militia members who answered a Bundy family call to take up arms to prevent the lawful enforcement of multiple court orders to remove Bundy cattle from what is now the Gold Butte National Monument.

Defense attorneys cast the tense standoff as an ultimately peaceful protest involving people upset about aggressive tactics used by federal land managers and contract cowboys.

They point to skirmishes days earlier involving armed federal agents using dogs and stun guns against Bundy family members; the closure of a vast range half the size of the state of Delaware to collect Bundy’s cattle; and corrals set up as protest “First Amendment zone” protest areas for people.

A first trial earlier this year involved men who carried guns, but who prosecutors characterized as the least culpable of the co-defendants. It lasted two months and ended in April with a jury unable to reach verdicts for the four men, while finding two other defendants guilty of some charges.

Story by KEN RITTER

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

AP content: Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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12 Comments

  • NickDanger August 22, 2017 at 7:27 pm

    Meh. This has always been a pretty shaky case. On the one hand, it’s about money, not land. The government took over some land and started charging grazing fees. I don’t see how that’s much different from the kinds of taxes all the rest of us are confronted by each day. There’s a new tax around every corner these days. Bundy should have just paid his taxes like everyone else.

    On the other hand, there’s something admirable about folks standing up to the federal government, and in this case, demonstrating conclusively, for the entire country to see, that we are all ultimately staring down the business end of the U.S. Government’s gun barrel, it’s just a matter of how forcefully we defend our rights. Be forceful enough about it and they will come for you, prepared for a military-style assault. It’s very seldom anyone has the courage to force the government’s hand, and when it happens, it’s always a disaster. Ruby Ridge, Waco, this catastrophe, and several others come to mind.

    Anyway, my two cents on this matter is, they should have just paid the grazing fees, but since they didn’t, and they did the whole standoff thing, I’m kinda glad they got away with it.

    • desertgirl August 23, 2017 at 8:51 am

      The problem is citizens like you, NickDanger, accepting government taxes for everything and anything. The government shouldn’t be in the business of owning real estate. Unused federal property should not be an excuse for the government to tax when that property is being used by citizens (that property belongs to us already). At least you have a ‘feeling’ for ‘whole standoff thing’. Another dangerous practice of government is Asset Confiscation and Eminent Domain. Both give power to law enforcement that is often misused and traumatizing when innocent citizens are targeted. I for one am grateful to citizens like the Bundys for their courage and American principles.

      • NickDanger August 23, 2017 at 10:10 am

        Well desertgirl, I kinda agree with you philosophically but I certainly don’t agree that “the problem is citizens like (me).” You also accept government taxes for everything and anything, as do 99.99% of people. We don’t have a choice, except on the rare occasions when a local or state tax comes up for a vote.

        My personal feeling about government taxes is basically…I get why they are necessary. But between state and local income taxes, sales tax, auto registration, property tax, and all the other little taxes on this and that I pay, I end up putting well over 1/3 of my money toward taxes in a given year. That’s a lot of money. But I pay it, and I don’t gripe about it, because it is something over which I have no control. I have little choice (unless I want to start my own private investigation into the matter) but to assume that the amount I’m paying is the amount that’s needed for government operations. Being the most powerful country in the history of the planet is an expensive business.

        My point being, there’s nothing wrong with me unless there’s also something wrong with you, desertgirl. You think you are a more patriotic or proper citizen because you gripe about the taxes you pay while I just pay them? Maybe you’re right. But I kinda doubt it. Arguing against taxes is just spitting into the wind. I have better things to do with my time.

        • desertgirl August 23, 2017 at 12:20 pm

          I actually participate by doing more than just ‘paying my taxes’; I get involved. I repeat, most people are like you and simply accept that taxes and any other forced regulations and laws are going to happen and accept it. You just made my point by admitting it. If you and others got involved things would change, but it requires more than just me and 5% of the population. The term is sheep who never make any change. Meantime we leave it to the violent, active left to grow a dangerous government run by socialist and totalitarian ideologists using fascist tactics.

          • NickDanger August 23, 2017 at 12:55 pm

            Well like I said, desertgirl, I agree with you philosophically. But what you are actually talking about is revolution. Taxes are the government’s lifeblood, raison d’etre, and special purpose all wrapped up in one. To deny them taxes is an act of war, e.g., the Boston Tea Party.

            To deny them taxes is also counter-productive. We citizens of the USA are not even on the international geopolitical playing field. Our playing field is much, much smaller, and our game is much, much less challenging. The reason our game is less challenging is because we DO have the power of the government backing us and allowing us to live peacefully and lawfully within a regulated economy. This rare privilege we have as U.S. citizens requires taxes.

            So it becomes a question of degree. How much is too much? How much is not enough? Can you answer that? Probably not. So what exactly are you protesting? The existence of taxes in general?

            I’d be more inclined to be curious about your politics if you had a more specific agenda to offer. Being anti-tax is like being anti-hurricane. Anyone would agree with you that hurricanes suck. But they’re going to happen anyway and there’s not a thing you can do about it.

  • ladybugavenger August 22, 2017 at 9:03 pm

    It’s for the best

  • Foxyheart August 22, 2017 at 9:57 pm

    I guess this mean we all don’t have to pay federal fees for anything then.

    • desertgirl August 23, 2017 at 8:54 am

      No, Foxyheart, as long as people like you give your liberties and freedoms over to a government body willy nilly we will all be economically raped forever. The waste of tax dollars and unnecessary, unconstitutional taxing of everything is supported by people with no understanding or respect of the constitution and history.

  • Craig August 23, 2017 at 10:09 am

    I would need to research, but I do not think the federal government has constitutional authority to own land outside of Washington, DC, though lawyers carefully use wording to legally claim the government does not actually own them.

    I am offended these men have stayed in prison more than 19 months, some still not tried.

    We need our respective states to combine and force the federal government back within the confines of the Constitution.

    Individuals making good or bad decisions to confront the federal government individually should not have to happen.

    The states are the federal government’s employer and the Constitution is its contract with the federal government. States – enforce your contract.

    • desertgirl August 23, 2017 at 12:13 pm

      Thank you Craig. Well stated and to the point.

  • Larry August 23, 2017 at 6:10 pm

    The Federal Agents were the only “Gunmen” that were pointing Loaded Rifles at anyone and that was at “The People”. And that includes the completely Innocent Citizens on the I-15 Bridge (having nothing to do with the stand-off). Stopped on the bridge because of traffic blocked and by government officials. I was there on that Bridge (with Binoculars) and the Government Goons were panning the hundreds of people on the bridge with the scopes of their Loaded Rifles. I have Zero respect for any Federal Law Enforcement. They are dangerous to our liberty and history has shown they will kill citizens when no direct threat to their lives are present.

  • SteveSGU August 25, 2017 at 10:07 am

    Your headline is faulty. Juries don’t “choose” to convict or not; their duty is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to convict. Jury members don’t have a choice in the matter. That would be injustice.

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