Land policies to be tested in Bundy standoff trial in Vegas

FILE - This undated, combination file photo provided by the Multnomah County, Ore., Sheriff's Office shows, from left; Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his sons Ammon Bundy and Ryan Bundy and co-defendant Ryan Payne. Ryan Bundy, who is serving as his own lawyer, was ordered released Monday, Nov. 13, 2017 to a halfway house for the men's trial stemming from a 2014 armed standoff against government agents in a public lands cattle grazing dispute. (Multnomah County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A stubborn rancher’s refusal to recognize federal authority in the West will be presented to a jury in Las Vegas, where a trial is set to start Tuesday for cattleman Cliven Bundy, two of his sons and a co-defendant accused of leading a 2014 armed standoff against government agents.

Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre, the lead prosecutor, has accused the Bundys of trying to instigate a “range war” against federal agents who were enforcing lawful court orders after Bundy racked up more than $1.1 million in unpaid fees and penalties letting cattle graze for decades in what is now Gold Butte National Monument.

Defense attorneys say the four men didn’t conspire with anyone and didn’t wield weapons. They say no shots were fired in the standoff near Bunkerville, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

Each defendant faces 15 felony charges, including conspiracy, assault and threats against federal officers, firearms counts, obstruction and extortion. Stacked together, convictions on all charges carry the possibility of more than 170 years in prison.

The trial sets up as a test of public land policies in Western U.S. states such as Nevada, where the federal government controls about 85 percent of the land and juries have twice balked at full convictions of men who had guns during the tense April 2014 confrontation.

Bundy argues that his family has used the same public range for more than a century, and the land belongs to the state not the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The trial is expected to be contentious. The 71-year-old Bundy, sons Ryan and Ammon Bundy and co-defendant Ryan Payne have been jailed since early 2016, and each refused to enter a plea saying he didn’t recognize the authority of the government. A magistrate judge entered not-guilty pleas for them.

Openings in the long-awaited trial were postponed at the last minute last week, amid a fight about whether prosecutors properly disclosed evidence about surveillance cameras watching the Bundy homestead.

The defendants also asked to be released to a halfway house during proceedings that are expected to take about four months.

Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro last week ordered Cliven and Ammon Bundy and Payne to remain in custody. She agreed Monday to release Ryan Bundy to halfway house supervision, said Trisha Young, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Las Vegas.

Ryan Bundy, who is serving as his own attorney, argued he was hampered preparing his case from jail.

The Bunkerville standoff was a precursor to an early 2016 protest in rural eastern Oregon, where Ryan and Ammon Bundy and Payne led a 41-day takeover of a federal wildlife refuge and called for the U.S. government to turn over public land to local control.

A federal jury in Portland refused last year to convict Ryan and Ammon Bundy of any crime. Payne pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge, but wants to withdraw his plea and his expected sentence of more than three years in prison.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s