by MIKE HEUER
LAS VEGAS (CN) – Nevada Rancher Cliven Bundy and 16 co-defendants will be tried in three separate trials, with the least-culpable being tried first, U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen ordered Monday evening.
The 17 defendants are charged with 16 felonies arising from their roles in an April 2014 armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which sought to confiscate about 400 head of cattle owned by Cliven Bundy. The BLM said the cattle were grazing illegally on federal land, and Cliven Bundy owes for years of unpaid grazing fees.
Federal prosecutors recently filed a motion to sever the trial into three separate trials, suggesting that the most culpable defendants go first to establish general facts, followed by two separate trials for the other defendants.
In a 26-page ruling, Leen said “the most logical, efficient and manageable way to try this case is to separate the defendants into three groups corresponding to their alleged roles in the offences [sic] charged in the superseding indictment.”
Leen ordered the trial of the 17 defendants to be severed into three groups for three separate trials, with each trial commencing 30 days after the conclusion of the previous one.
Rejecting prosecutors’ preference that the most culpable be tried first, Leen decided that the first to go to court should be the “tier 3” defendants, or those considered “least culpable.” This includes Richard Lovelien, Todd Engel, Gregory Burleson, Eric Parker, O. Scott Drexler and Steven Stewart.
Federal prosecutors describe these defendants as “followers.”
“The trial of the Tier 3 defendants will likely be a shorter trial than the trial of either the Tier 1 or Tier 2 defendants,” Leen explained in her order.
Thirty days after the first trial, the trial for “tier 1” defendants will commence. This group includes those federal prosecutors say were the leaders and organizers of the standoff, such as Cliven Bundy, Ryan Bundy, Ammon Bundy, Peter Santilli and Ryan Payne.
Last up will be “tier 2” defendants Dave Bundy, Mel Bundy, Joseph O’Shaughnessy, Brian Cavalier, Jason Woods and Micah McGuire.
Federal prosecutors say these defendants also participated in organizing the standoff, but to a lesser extent than the tier 1 defendants.
The 17 defendants each face up to 80 years in prison on up to 16 felony charges. Cliven Bundy additionally faces a $3 million fine for unpaid grazing fees and penalties for interfering with the BLM.
Two other standoff participants, Blaine Cooper, 36, of Humboldt, Arizona, and Gerald A. DeLemus, 61, of Rochester, New Hampshire, pleaded guilty to reduced charges in August. Each faces up to 72 months in prison, three years of supervised release and a $500,000 fine.