Rulings Could Shape Vegas Trial of 6 in Bundy Ranch Standoff

February 7, 2017 08:13 PM
 
Bundy Standoff Nevada

A federal judge in Las Vegas was considering crucial rulings while jury selection continued Tuesday for the trial of six defendants accused of stopping U.S. agents at gunpoint from rounding up cattle near Cliven Bundy's ranch in 2014.

Opening statements could come Wednesday in a trial focused not on the jailed states' rights advocate and four of his adult sons, but on six men characterized by the prosecution as less-culpable gunmen and followers.

Each has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, assault, weapon and other charges.

Among the issues before U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro:

Federal Agent in Charge

Several defense attorneys are seeking dismissal of the case, accusing the U.S. attorney's office of improperly withholding information about Daniel Love, the federal Bureau of Land Management supervisor who oversaw the Bundy cattle roundup in April 2014.

Findings released last week by the federal Interior Department inspector general faulted the supervisory agent from Salt Lake City for accepting tickets and transportation at the Burning Man festival in Nevada in 2015, and for influencing the hiring of a friend to the bureau.

The unnamed agent was accused of trying to influence employees not to cooperate with the probe of his activities. The findings weren't final, but were referred to higher-ups for possible disciplinary action.

Federal public defenders representing one defendant identify Love as the head of the Bundy cattle impoundment operation and an important witness for the prosecution.

They say they should have been informed last year about the allegations against him.

Tom Pitaro, a Las Vegas defense attorney with decades of trial experience who isn't representing anyone in the Bundy case, called it unlikely that the disclosures about Love would derail the trial.

"The reality is that rarely happens," Pitaro said. "Dismissal is the most extreme response."

FBI Film Crew

The judge ruled Monday against one defendant's bid to prevent the government from showing jurors an interview he gave in the months after the standoff to a film crew from a company called Longbow Productions.

Defense attorneys allege that crew members said they were making a documentary, but the interviews were for the FBI.

Cliven Bundy is among other defendants who sought to prevent the jury from seeing the interview.

A lawyer for another defendant says he wants the jury to see his interview, because it will show his client telling why he was at the Bundy ranch.

Nancy Rapoport, a professor at the Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said it will be up to the jury to determine the credibility of the witnesses and the value of the evidence.

Breadth of Focus

Prosecutors have asked the judge to narrow the focus of the trial to the day of the standoff, and to prohibit defense teams from referring to federal land policies in Nevada and other states in the West where the federal government owns vast swaths of rangeland.

Defense lawyers argue that if the government hopes to prove conspiracy, the jury has to hear what the defendants believe and why they went to the Bundy ranch.

Pitaro called that a common — and key — courtroom fight.

"In every criminal case, the prosecution tries to narrow the focus only to the act and what happened that day," he said. "The defense always tries to expand it to get into other areas."

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