Trial Begins for First Defendants in Bundy Ranch Standoff

LAS VEGAS (CN) – Criminal trial begins Monday for the first six of 17 defendants charged with multiple felonies in the armed standoff with federal agents at Cliven Bundy’s ranch in April 2014.

The 17 defendants will face 15 felony charges at their federal trials rather than 16 charges, as the judge dropped one count as duplicative.

The six whose trial begins today are considered the least culpable of the defendants. The second group will be tried 30 days after this round concludes, and the third group 30 days after the second trial ends.

All are accused of multiple felonies during the failed roundup of cattle that Bundy had grazed for years on federal land without paying about $3 million in grazing fees. The federal agents backed off for fear of inflicting violence. Bundy and his followers claim the federal government has no right to federal land.

Facing trial today are Eric J. Parker, O. Scott Drexler, Richard R. Lovelien, Steven A. Stewart, Todd C. Engel and Gregory P. Burleson.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Gloria M. Navarro on Thursday granted a motion by second-round defendant Ryan Payne to dismiss count three against all defendants. It accuses them of conspiring to impede and injure a federal officer, and is virtually the same as count two.

Payne also argued that count three is not a crime of violence.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen recommended the court deny Payne’s motion to dismiss, saying the residual clause of subsection 924 of the federal code for penalties makes count three a crime of violence.

Leen said the Ninth Circuit ruled in United States v. Mendez that a conspiracy to rob is a crime of violence under the residual clause.

In objecting to Leen’s recommendation, Payne’s attorneys wrote: “If the act of impeding or inducing federal officers by means of force, intimidation or threat is not a crime of violence under the Force Clause, then the mere act of conspiring to commit such acts prohibited by subsection 372 cannot be deemed to create a ‘substantial risk’ of physical force under the Residual Clause.”

Federal prosecutors said the residual clause makes count three a crime of violence.

Navarro found the Ninth Circuit defined a crime of violence as the “use, attempted use or threatened use of physical force” against a person or property or “by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another.”

In analyzing the residual clause, however, the Ninth Circuit found it “unconstitutionally void for vagueness” in two previous cases, Navarro wrote.

Navarro said the clause does not assess facts, and does not indicate how much risk is required to elevate a crime to violent felony.

She dismissed count three against all defendants, leaving each of them facing 15 felony charges.

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