LAS VEGAS >> Federal prosecutors in Nevada are about to try again to prove that four men should spend decades in prison for bringing assault-style weapons to a confrontation that stopped government agents from rounding up cattle near Cliven Bundy’s ranch more than three years ago.
Jury selection begins Monday in Las Vegas for the conspiracy retrial of four defendants whose cases were left undecided when jurors weren’t able to reach a verdict in April. Two other defendants were found guilty of some charges.
“They’re going to pare down their case compared to last time,” Jess Marchese, attorney for defendant Eric Parker, said Friday. “The government always fixes their mistakes.”
Todd Leventhal, attorney for defendant Scott Drexler, said prosecutors are now asking the judge to narrow the focus of the trial to the standoff itself, and not let defense lawyers raise arguments about constitutional rights and government land policy. The judge has yet to rule on those requests.
A spokeswoman for acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre declined Friday to comment.
Parker was famously photographed lying on the pavement of an Interstate 15 overpass during the tense April 2014 standoff, looking with his AK-47-style rifle toward heavily armed federal agents below.
“His case comes down to that picture,” Marchese said Friday. “It’s a scary picture.”
Drexler is seen in a similar photo, and images showed Richard Lovelien and Steven Stewart carrying assault-style rifles, but not aiming them.
Yet a 12-member jury that saw the same photos failed to reach verdicts about the four defendants. Most jurors voted to acquit on conspiracy, weapon, assault on a federal agent and other charges.
Defendants maintain they drove to southern Nevada from Idaho and Montana after seeing social media posts about scuffles involving unarmed Bundy family members and Bureau of Land Management agents using dogs and stun guns. Some said they’d never before met Bundy family members.
Officials said the government agents were enforcing federal court orders for Bundy to get his cattle off public rangeland after failing to pay more than $1.1 million in grazing fees.
In the end, no shots were fired in the armed confrontation near Bunkerville. The local sheriff brokered a truce and cows that had been rounded up were released.
The outcome made Cliven Bundy a hero to anti-government activists, and led to his arrest in early 2016 with 18 other men, including four of his sons. All are in federal custody.
Two defendants pleaded guilty last year, and Gregory Burleson and Todd Engel were found guilty during the first trial.
Burleson, of Phoenix, faces 57 years of mandatory prison time on eight charges. Engel, of Idaho, could face up to 30 years in prison. Their sentencings are set later this month.
Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan, and two other defendants are due for trial later this year. Six others, including two other Bundy sons, are slated for trial next year.