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John L. Smith On What The Jury Is Weighing In The First Bundy Trial

Associated Press

An unnamed armed protester near Bunkerville in April 2014.

The jury is deliberating. Will the people who gathered arms and answered the call to defend Clive Bundy’s cattle be convicted for conspiracy? Or will they be found not guilty?

This is the first of three scheduled trials stemming from a standoff in Bunkerville in 2014.

Nevada Public Radio contributor John L. Smith has followed the trial from opening statements, and he joins us with his thoughts about the case with a focus on some of the scenes and characters that have made it, well, a little more colorful to say the least.

Smith said a unique aspect of this trial has been the added security from Department of Homeland Security agents and Metro Police. 

“Because every morning there’s a group of folks, there on the front steps of the courthouse basically right on the sidewalk, protesting on behalf of the six men accused of intimidating federal officers," he said.

Smith said there has been tension in the courtroom between supporters of the defendants and Judge Gloria Navarro. At one point, a spectator shouted "treason" in response to something the judge said. Smith pointed out that unless you've been in a federal courtroom and seen the procedures the rules can seem strange. He also you can feel the "weight" of the government in a federal trial. 

“If you’re accused of a crime in federal court, the weight of the government is very heavy on your shoulders," he said, "I think what’s happening now, some folks – I don’t want to put words in their mouths – but I think there is a certain resignation that a lot of folks are seeing that these guys – despite whatever their philosophy might be about the Constitution and their government overreaching – the fact is they’re in a lot of trouble and you bring a gun to a protest and you’re bound to get people’s attention and they certainly have gotten it.”

A lot of video evidence was presented in this trial, Smith said. Video of the standoff from the prosecution, video of confrontations between Bundy family members and the Bureau of Land Management from the defense. 

“The defense is really focused on trying to remind jurors: 'look what happened in the time leading up to this and wouldn’t that justify some kind of response,' some kind of strong response from these fellows, who in their own videos claim a very strong belief in local government and the Constitution and they’re worried about the federal government overreaching and they were worried about this rancher who had his cows removed, not knowing that it was a court ordered removal – or not caring.” he said.

A lot of the evidence presented during this trial is really a test for the two trials ahead, including the one involving Cliven Bundy. The big question in that trial will be the conspiracy.

 “From my time in the courtroom, I saw a lot of Facebook posts from a lot of folks who are very well known as militia group leaders…but the organization to go to the Bundy Ranch armed, therefore essentially intimidating the officers, that is really the crux of the conspiracy case," Smith said, "Did the Bundys send out the word? It appears that they did”   

John L. Smith, contributor

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(EDITOR'S NOTE: Carrie Kaufman no longer works for KNPR News. She left in April 2018)