by MIKE HEUER
LAS VEGAS (CN) – Political ads and pretrial publicity don’t warrant a change of venue in the federal government’s case against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and 16 co-defendants, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
Co-defendant Ryan Payne sought a change of venue due to bad publicity arising from political ads during the recent general election and news reports written during and since an April 2014 armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over Bundy’s refusal to pay fines for grazing his cattle on public land.
In his motion, filed in the District of Nevada, Payne cited “pervasive publicity generated in the case,” expressing particular concern over recent political ads run by a Democratic candidate for Congress, Ruben Kihuen. Kihuen allegedly tied the 2014 deaths of two local police officers to the April 2014 standoff near Bunkerville. The local media had also reported on the deaths.
The connection between the deaths and the Bundy case comes from Jerad and Amanda Miller, a husband and wife who wanted to join the standoff but were asked to leave.
In June 2014, the couple shot and killed two police officers at a Las Vegas pizza restaurant, according to a local NBC news affiliate. They then went to a Walmart store, where they ordered everyone to leave and killed a man who attempted to confront them with his concealed firearm.
Local police shot and killed Jerad Miller, and Amanda Miller committed suicide.
Payne, who participated in the standoff, wanted the trial conducted in Reno, or with a jury pool selected in Reno for the trial in Las Vegas.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen denied the motion, saying the “presumption of prejudice is ‘rarely applicable’ and reserved for the most extreme situations.”
“Payne has not met the burden of showing this is such an extreme case that it must presume prejudice based on prejudicial pretrial publicity,” Leen wrote in her 15-page order.
Leen notes in her denial of Payne’s motion that more than 2 million potential jurors reside in southern Nevada who are from “ethnically and culturally diverse communities.” In addition, a significant portion of the population has either moved to or from the area, Leen added.
When weighing whether or not there was a “barrage” of “negative publicity,” Leen followed Ninth Circuit precedent and considered whether the publicity occurred immediately prior to trial.
She also considered whether news accounts were factual or editorial, whether new reports included prejudicial material, the size of the jury pool, and the ability to mitigate the “prejudicial effect of publicity,” Leen wrote.
“Most of the news stories Payne listed in his motion were reported more than two-and-a-half years ago,” Leen noted, adding that, “courts routinely deny venue changes when ‘peaks of publicity occurred many months before the beginning of a trial.’”
Bundy in 1993 began grazing cattle on land called the Bunkerville Allotment without paying grazing fees or obtaining permits.
The federal government sued Bundy in 1998, and the court ruled the rancher illegally allowed his livestock to graze on federal land. He was permanently enjoined from grazing his cattle in the Allotment.
The court ordered Bundy to remove his cattle and told the BLM to impound any unauthorized cattle.
But when the BLM tried to do so on April 12, 2014, Bundy and his supporters, many of them armed, interfered, leading to up to 16 felony charges against Bundy, Payne and 15 additional co-defendants.