John L. Smith On The Mistrial Of Four Defendants In The Bundy Case
A jury in Las Vegas has deadlocked on federal charges against four men in an armed standoff that stopped government agents from rounding up cattle near Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch in 2014.
The judge declared a mistrial Monday after jurors couldn't reach verdicts on charges against Richard Lovelien, Scott Drexler, Eric Parker and Steven Stewart. Earlier, the same jury convicted two others in the standoff.
Gregory Burleson of Arizona was found guilty of eight charges, including threatening and assaulting a federal officer. Todd Engel of Idaho was found guilty of obstruction and extortion.
Nevada Public Radio contributor John L. Smith has been following the trial since the beginning. He said the trial was considered to be for the "lesser involved defendants," unlike members of the Bundy family who are set to go to court in June on conspiracy charges.
"But from my perspective, watching the trial unfold over about 10 weeks, it was clear that although these guys might have been lesser involved than the key players, the fact that they carried guns to the protest and appeared, at least to witnesses, to be menacing some of the federal law enforcement agents, that was a very important part of the government’s conspiracy theory.”
However, Smith believes the verdict shows the jury didn't buy the conspiracy theory sold by the prosecution, even though the defendants took up arms and crossed state lines.
“Now, the jury in this case – and this is an important point – came back and said ‘hey, we don’t have a conspiracy here.’ They may have had some kind of a loose agreement but conspiracy comes with certain agreements. It’s not just a matter of talking about something. It has to get specific. There have to be acts involved.”
As for Burleson and Engel, Smith believes the video evidence after the standoff was the evidence the jury needed.
“It was clear that some of the video footage seemed a lot more demonstrative in Burleson’s case and he wasn’t interviewed a lot but when he was on tape, he was bragging,” Smith said. Burleson bragged about going after the government and killing rogue federal agents.
The judge scheduled a new trial for June 26. That's the same day Bundy; his eldest sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy; and two other defendants are scheduled for trial.
“Well, at least in the moment, it damages the prosecutions’ case, but clearly by scheduling three separate trials and the willingness to go after 17 defendants it’s obvious that the U.S. Attorneys’ Office is very serious about prosecuting this.”
There is no word at this point whether the trials involving the Bundy family will be delayed because of Monday's mistrial.
The NFL and Las Vegas
The NFL owners approved the Oakland Raiders move to Las Vegas in March, but as Smith observes there might still be some sticking points between out city and the league.
This came to light when some players got into trouble over an arm wrestling tournament at the MGM Grand.
“Clearly, those team owners seem to appreciate the potential of Las Vegas as market – what was it a 33 to 1 vote – or whatever it was – so that’s the good news, but the bad news is the league has a long-standing policy that doesn’t allow its players to endorse or basically become ‘mascots’ for casinos.”
The league said the players didn't check with the league to see if they could put on the tournament and apparently they would not have been allowed because it violated the league's "gambling policy."
Smith said the main problem was that the tournament was held in Las Vegas, which is synonymous with gambling, according to the NFL. However, as Smith pointed out, many teams play in cities, counties, and states that allow gambling.
“The NFL is caught in an evolution and because of the vote of the owners and because of the tremendous effort to get a stadium approved here in Southern Nevada, because of those different factors they’re just forced to evolve and they’re just going to have to change their regulations,” he said.
The league is also going to have to "warm up" to the idea that Las Vegas comes with its own "challenges," Smith said, like the fact that brothel owner Dennis Hof wants to build a Raiders' themed brothel and that many NFL players love to take part in the entertainment options the city has to offer.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)
John L. Smith, contributor