Antigovernment rancher Cliven Bundy, 70, will have his next showdown with the U.S. Government early next year after a judge this week ordered three separate trials for him and 16 other defendants.
Federal prosecutors initially wanted to take all 17 Nevada defendants to trial at one time, but two weeks after “not guilty” verdicts were returned in a related trial in Oregon, the government did “a complete turnaround and suddenly asked” for three separate trials, court filings say.
In an order filed Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy A. Leen of the District of Nevada agreed with prosecutors, setting three trials and grouping the defendants based on their roles in a 2014 standoff at Bunkerville, Nev. between Bundy, his sons and their militia-style followers and federal law enforcement agents.
The judge’s 27-page order also dismissed a slew of pending motions by the defendants in the case that has been officially labeled as legally complex.
The government wanted to first try Cliven Bundy and the other alleged leaders of the Nevada conspiracy, but that group is now set for the second trial.
In an order just filed, the judge said the “most logical, efficient, and manageable way to try this case is to separate the defendants into three groups corresponding to their alleged roles in the offenses charged in the superseding indictment.”
Cliven Bundy has been in custody since his arrest in February when he flew to Portland to see his sons who were involved in the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge that led to the Oregon charges.
Bundy initially asked to be tried separately from his sons and the other defendants. But after the surprise acquittals on Oct. 27 of his sons and others on the Oregon charges, Bundy demanded that the court try all the Nevada defendants in a single trial.
The elder Bundy asked the court to prove it is not logistically possible to try all 17 defendants in a joint trial – an idea that federal prosecutors opposed for security and logistical reasons.
In creating three “tier” groupings of defendants, the judge put Cliven Bundy and his sons Ryan and Ammon in Tier 1, along with Peter Santilli and Ryan Payne.
They are identified in the judge’s order as “leaders and organizers who were involved in most or all of the critical events leading to the April 12, 2014 assault” on federal agents.
Cliven Bundy’s other sons, Dave and Mel, were named in Tier 2, along with Joseph O’Shaughnessy, Brian Cavalier, Jason Woods, and Micah McGuire. The judge’s order said these defendants were “mid-level leaders and organizers whose leadership roles involve their actions on the ground during the April 12, 2014 assault, and less by their pre-assault activities.”
The defendants in Tier 3, who will go to trial first, are Richard Lovelien, Todd Engel, Gregory Burleson, Eric Parker, O. Scott Drexler, and Steven Stewart. They are described as “follower-gunmen, whose involvement in the conspiracy is restricted more to their actions during the April 12 assault.
The first trial, for the Tier 3 defendants, is now set to begin on Feb. 6. Court documents don’t estimate at this point how long that first trial may last.
Under the judge’s order, Cliven Bundy and the other Tier 1 defendants will “proceed to trial 30 days after the conclusion of the trial of the Tier 3 defendants.” The Tier 2 defendants will proceed to trial 30 days after the conclusion of the trial of the Tier 1 defendants.