LAS VEGAS (CN) — Four defendants faced federal prosecutors’ opening arguments Monday in the government’s second attempt to convict them for the armed standoff with federal agents in 2012 near Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch.
The retrial is the first of three arising from Bundy and his supporters’ April 12, 2014 armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) near his ranch near Bunkerville.
BLM officers were enforcing a federal court order to confiscate up to 1,000 head of cattle grazing on federally controlled land without permits. The BLM says Bundy owes $2 million in unpaid grazing fees and penalties over the past 20 years.
Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre on Monday told a six-man, six-woman jury that defendants O. Scott Drexler, Richard Lovelien, Eric Parker and Steven Stewart conspired to use firearms to intimidate the BLM from impounding Bundy’s cattle.
“They became the law at the end of a rifle,” Myhre said, making the BLM officers fear for their lives.
Myhre said the men “carried, brandished and pointed” rifles at the officers, who “thought they would die that day.”
Myhre told the jury each defendant used, and intended to use firearms to stop the BLM from enforcing a lawful court order.
“Bundy had his day in court, and he lost,” Myhre said.
He said Lovelien helped Bundy recruit volunteers and militia members to come to Nevada to stop the BLM from enforcing the court order to impound the cattle.
Stewart, Drexler and Parker drove together overnight from Idaho, bringing guns, ammunition and body armor for a confrontation with the BLM.
The BLM had rounded up some 400 head, which were contained in an impound pen by the day of the standoff and headed for market in California. But the defendants and others went to the impound area, some armed and some not, to force the BLM to release the cattle, Myhre told the jury.
He said the BLM had called off the rest of the roundup and intended to leave when Bundy ordered the defendants and other supporters to get his cows back, and demanded that the sheriff disarm the BLM and tear down the entrances to Red Rock National Park, among other things.
Myhre said the four men conspired to use firearms to intimidate and extort the BLM into stopping the roundup and releasing the cattle.
Defense attorney Shawn Perez told the jury his client, Lovelien, and the other defendants went to Nevada to prevent violence and to protest against the federal government.
Perez said Lovelien had a rifle slung over his shoulder, with the muzzle pointed toward the ground, drank water and made a 4-minute phone call to his sister while at the impound area.
“No shots were fired, and everyone went home,” Perez said.
Stewart’s attorney Richard Tanasi compared the jury defendants’ actions to those of the Founding Fathers.
“This case is about standing up for what you believe in,” Tanasi said. “This is how America was founded.”
Tanasi said the BLM had ended its impound operation the day before the standoff, so Stewart could not have conspired to intimidate and extort the BLM into stopping it.
Attorneys for Parker and Drexler said they would reserve their time for opening comments until the prosecution rests and the defense begins.
If convicted of all 10 felony counts against them, each defendant faces up to 50 years in prison.
A jury on April 24 found Greg B. Burleson of Phoenix guilty of eight of 10 counts and Todd Engel of Idaho guilty of two counts: obstruction of justice and interstate travel in aid of extortion. It deadlocked on eight counts.
Burleson was convicted of assault on a federal officer, three counts of using and carrying a firearm in a crime of violence, threatening a federal law enforcement officer, obstruction of justice and two counts of extortion. The jury deadlocked on two conspiracy counts against him.
Cliven Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, Peter Santilli and Ryan Payne are to go to trial about 30 days after this retrial.
Each faces 15 felony counts of conspiring to intimidate the BLM and federal law enforcement. If convicted, each faces up to 80 years in prison. Cliven Bundy also faces a $3 million fine for unpaid grazing fees.
A third trial, of Dave Bundy, Mel Bundy, Joseph O’Shaughnessy, Brian Cavalier, Jason Woods and Micah McGuire is to start about 30 days after the conclusion of the trial of the second group of defendants.
Two defendants, Gerald DeLemus of New Hampshire and Blaine Cooper of Humboldt, Arizona, pleaded guilty to reduced charges in August 2016. They await sentencing.