Las Vegas Sun

April 26, 2018

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Judge to curtail defense witnesses in Bundy standoff case


John Locher / AP

Supporters and critics of defendants on trial at the federal courthouse gather Monday, Feb. 6, 2017, in Las Vegas. Jury selection began Monday for the federal trial of six defendants accused of taking arms against federal agents herding cattle off public land near Nevada cattleman and states’ rights advocate Cliven Bundy’s ranch in April 2014.

A jury might hear from just one or two defense witnesses and only one of the six men accused of wielding guns against federal agents during a 2014 standoff involving Nevada cattleman and states' rights advocate Cliven Bundy, following a judge's decision Monday limiting the scope of remaining testimony.

After nearly two months of testimony by more than three dozen prosecution witnesses, defense attorneys were knocked off a plan to call most of about 10 witnesses.

Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro ruled that any testimony should focus on the standoff itself, not incidents preceding it.

Defense attorney Todd Leventhal, representing Orville Scott Drexler of Idaho, said the ruling crippled the defense and ensured the jury won't hear from most of the witnesses that defendants' attorneys intended to call.

Richard Tanasi, lawyer for defendant Steven Stewart of Idaho, said the defense team would have to regroup and figure out a strategy.

The ruling appeared to put the case on track for closing arguments as early as this week.

The six are the first of 17 defendants to stand trial on conspiracy, weapon and assault on a federal agent charges that could get each up to 101 years in prison in the confrontation that ended a roundup of Bundy cattle from public land in southern Nevada.

Trials for Cliven Bundy and four adult sons are scheduled in coming months.

Defense lawyers originally wanted to call more than 30 witnesses, including Daniel Love, a U.S. Bureau of Land Management supervisor from Salt Lake City who headed the ill-fated roundup of Bundy cattle from public land in southern Nevada.

Leventhal said he and the others are now precluded from calling Love to the stand.

Love was recommended for possible disciplinary action this year by the bureau's Office of Inspector General for accepting tickets to a sold-out Burning Man festival in northern Nevada in 2015, for having agents provide transportation for his family at the event, and for allegedly manipulating a hiring process so a friend could get a job.

Investigators also reported that Love asked employees to "scrub" emails and delete documents before responding to a congressional records request.

A federal land management agent who was wearing a body camera might be called to the stand Tuesday, and defense attorney Jess Marchese said his client, Eric Parker of Idaho, also plans to testify.

Attorneys for Gregory Burleson of Arizona, Richard Lovelien of Oklahoma and Todd Engel of Idaho said their clients had not decided whether to take the stand.

Bundy maintains that states' rights supersede federal land policy, and the Bureau of Land Management has no authority to prevent him from letting his cows graze on public land near his ranch, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.