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April 23, 2017

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Jury notes snag on conspiracy counts in Nevada standoff case

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John Locher / AP

Marie Ries, center, marches with others in support of defendants on trial in federal court, Wednesday, April 12, 2017, in Las Vegas. A federal jury in Las Vegas heard closing arguments in the trial of six men accused of wielding weapons to stop federal agents from rounding up cattle near Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s property in 2014.

A federal jury in Las Vegas signaled trouble deliberating conspiracy charges Thursday before ending work for the week in the trial of six men who brought assault-style weapons to a standoff with government agents near Cliven Bundy's ranch in April 2014.

Jurors adjourned shortly before 12:30 p.m. without a verdict and decided to return Monday, after Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro told the eight women and four men that they are allowed to set their own schedule.

The panel, which deliberated from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day this week, and about three hours April 13, had sent a note to the judge indicating confusion about two conspiracy charges.

Conspiracy was also an issue in a federal trial last year in Oregon arising from an armed occupation of a U.S. wildlife refuge. A jury in Portland, Oregon, acquitted Bundy's eldest sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and five other defendants of all charges, including that they planned to impede federal officers from doing their work.

In Las Vegas, one conspiracy count alleges a plan was made to commit an offense against the United States, and that the six defendants then took part in it.

A second count alleges that conspirators agreed to impede and injure a federal law enforcement officer.

Prosecutors have told the jury the defendants answered calls by Cliven Bundy for a "range war" to stop federal agents from confiscating his cattle.

Defense attorneys said their clients came to southern Nevada from Idaho, Arizona and Montana to support protesters after seeing reports about scuffles between federal agents with dogs and stun guns and Bundy family members and supporters.

Navarro didn't read Thursday's jury question aloud with prosecutors, defendants and their lawyers before convening the jury to say a conspiracy can involve any person.

"You don't need to be a defendant to be a person," she said.

The jury has not indicated it has reached an impasse, and the judge asked the panel to continue deliberating.

Testimony in the case took two months, and involved about 40 witnesses.

Each defendant faces 10 charges including threatening and assaulting a federal officer, extortion, obstruction, weapon violations and conspiracy.

Each could face more than 50 years in prison if he's found guilty of crimes of violence: threats, assault and extortion.

No shots were fired in the standoff near Bunkerville before the federal Bureau of Land Management abandoned the roundup and withdrew.

The outcome was seen as a victory by states' rights advocates who oppose federal control of vast rangelands in the West.

Navarro this week set a June 26 trial date for Cliven, Ammon and Ryan Bundy and two other defendants, Ryan Payne and Peter Santilli, in the Nevada standoff. Prosecutors allege the five led and organized the alleged conspiracy.