Feds Push for Three Trials in Nevada Rancher Standoff

LAS VEGAS (CN) – Federal prosecutors want Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and 16 co-defendants to be tried in separate groups based upon their roles in an April 2014 armed standoff with federal authorities.

U.S. Attorney Daniel G. Bogden filed a motion Sunday to sever into three tiers the trial of 17 remaining defendants based upon their roles in the standoff. The trial is scheduled to start on Feb. 6.

“Separating the defendants by their roles into three identifiable tiers promotes the fair, just and efficient trial of the defendants as a whole, conserves scarce judicial resources, and is the least impactful to the victims and witnesses in the case,” Bodgen says.

The first tier would be comprised of “leaders and organizers,” whom Bogden identified as Cliven Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, Peter Santilli and Ryan Payne.

Bogden says those defendants “were involved in most or all of the critical events,” including blocking and ambushing a convoy, threatening a Utah auction barn, making several calls to arms, and initiating an assault on April 12, 2014.

The next tier would include “mid-level leaders and organizers and follower-gunmen,” whom Bodgen identifies as Dave Bundy, Mel Bundy, Joseph O’Shaughnessy Brian Cavalier, Jason Woods and Micah Johnson.

Bogden says those defendants’ “leadership roles are defined by their actions on the ground during the April 12 assault and less by their pre-assault activities.”

The third tier, called “follower-gunmen,” would include Rickey Lovelian, Todd Engel, Gregory Burleson, Eric Parker, O. Scott Drexler and Steven Stewart.

Bogden says the third tier of defendants mostly were involved in the “conspiracy” to stop the U.S. Bureau of Land Management from confiscating Bundy’s cattle.

The U.S. attorney says all but one of the defendants, Cavalier, filed motions to sever their respective trials from their co-defendants, and most seek individual trials.

He says Cliven Bundy, Payne, Santilli, Mel Bundy, O’Shaughnessy, Stewart, Burleson, Woods, McGuire and Drexler all seek separate trials. Lovelian and Engel, though, seek to be tried with Drexler, Stewart, Burleson, McGuire and Woods, Bogden says.

Meanwhile, Bogden says Parker wants to be tried along with Drexler and Stewart, while Ammon, Ryan and Dave Bundy seek to be tried along with Mel Bundy. None of the 17 remaining defendants wants to be tried with all co-defendants, Bogden says.

Federal prosecutors object to the defendants’ respective motions for individual trials, but Bogden says the government “did not advocate for a single, joint trial of all defendants.”

Bogden estimates a single trial of all 17 defendants would take between four and six months to complete, creating scheduling difficulties and conflicts among the 17 defendants and their attorneys. He also says holding 17 separate trials, likewise, would create significant delays and take up to 17 months to complete.

“Separate trials will unreasonably subject victims to being re-victimized time and again, as they are forced to tell and re-tell the violence and threats of death and bodily injury they faced at the hands of the defendants,” Bogden says.

In light of the federal government’s motion to sever the trial into three tiers, U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen on Tuesday gave each of the 17 defendants until Nov. 30 to file their respective responses to the federal government’s motion. She gave the government until Dec. 7 to file replies.

Cliven Bundy and the others face 16 felony charges for their roles in the April 2014 standoff with federal authorities who sought to confiscate some 400 head of cattle for unpaid grazing fees and illegal grazing on federal land. Cliven also faces a $3 million fine for illegal grazing.

Two defendants, Blaine Cooper, 36, of Humboldt, Arizona, and Gerald A. DeLemus, 61, of Rochester, New Hampshire, pleaded guilty in August to conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States and interstate travel in aid of extortion.

Each faces up to 72 months in prison with no possibility of early release, plus three years of supervised release and a $500,000 fine.