LAS VEGAS (AP) — A federal jury is due to hear Thursday from three more defense attorneys and a prosecutor before beginning deliberations in the trial of six men accused of wielding rifles during Nevada cattleman Cliven Bundy’s dispute with federal agents three years ago.
With no court scheduled Friday, verdicts aren’t expected until next week in the first of three trials stemming from an armed standoff that ended a Bureau of Land Management roundup of Bundy cattle from public land about 80 miles (129 kilometers) northeast of Las Vegas.
Three defense attorneys told the jury Wednesday that their clients were exercising constitutional rights to protest and bear arms and should be acquitted of charges including conspiracy and assault on a federal officer.
“Some people protest with signs. Other people protest with guns,” said attorney Jess Marchese, representing Eric Parker of Idaho. “At the end of the day, no one was hurt, and that’s the important thing.”
A prosecutor cast the April 12, 2014, standoff as a crime of violence that impeded the government from carrying out U.S. District Court orders to impound Bundy cattle.
“You can’t just go vigilante and resist law enforcement officers,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Dickinson said. “You especially cannot do it with guns.”
The tense noontime standoff pitted about 30 armed federal land management and park service officers in battle gear against more than 100 Bundy backers in a dry river bed below an arching Interstate 15 overpass.
The six defendants had assault-style rifles, and most were on the bridge with a view of the scene below, where flag-waving riders on horseback and unarmed men, women and children demanded the release of cows that had been rounded up.
Agents demanded the crowd disperse.
In the end, no shots were fired, the local sheriff brokered a truce, and the cows were released.
Jury deliberations are expected to take time. Chief District Judge Gloria Navarro spent 45 minutes Thursday reading aloud the instructions the jury will rely on to weigh two months of testimony and reach verdicts on 10 charges that also include weapon violations, obstruction, extortion and threatening a federal agent.
Gregory Burleson of Arizona, Richard Lovelien of Oklahoma, and Idaho residents Todd Engel, Scott Drexler and Steven Stewart, along with Parker, could face mandatory sentences of more than 50 years in prison if they are found guilty of crimes of violence; more than 100 years on all charges.
The trial represents the latest turn in a long-running dispute over land policy in the U.S., where states’ rights advocates want to wrest federal control of vast tracts of public land in states like Nevada, Utah, Oregon and Idaho.
A second federal trial could start June 5 for Cliven Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and two other defendants characterized by prosecutors as leaders of a conspiracy. Trial for another six defendants would follow in the fall.
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