Defenses rest in Nevada rancher standoff trial in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS (AP) — An Idaho man whose photo as an armed protester in Nevada was seen around the world was the only one of six defendants to testify before the defenses rested Monday in the first trial stemming from a 2014 standoff involving cattleman and states’ rights advocate Cliven Bundy.

Eric Parker was asked during cross-examination about his Facebook post during the confrontation saying that protesters planned to free Bundy cattle “by any means.” He was also asked about his comments after the standoff ended in an interview recorded by a man with cellphone video on a freeway overpass near Bunkerville.

“You said this could have potentially turned violent?” prosecutor Nicholas Dickinson asked.

“Absolutely,” Parker answered.

In the video, he gave his name as Eric from Idaho, and he was still holding the AK-47 style rifle and wearing his ballistic vest with two spare clips of bullets for his handgun.

Minutes earlier, flag-waving riders on horseback and more than 100 unarmed protesters including women and children faced off with about 30 heavily armed federal agents near a gate of a corral in a dry riverbed beneath the highway bridge.

Parker, now 33, was famously photographed prone on the pavement, looking with his rifle through a seam in a concrete freeway barrier toward the federal agents in the U-shaped wash below.

The crowd demanded the release of cows rounded up in the Gold Butte area about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

Parker testified he remembered the wind carrying the words “lethal force,” ”will be shot,” amid muffled warnings from loudspeakers used by agents to warn protesters not to take another step.

Parker’s defense attorney, Jess Marchese, asked during direct questioning how Parker interpreted calls by Cliven Bundy for a “range war” to stop federal agents from confiscating his cattle.

“Did you want to start a shooting war?” Marchese asked.

“No sir,” Parker answered.

Defendants Gregory Burleson of Arizona, Richard Lovelien of Oklahoma, Idaho residents Todd Engel, Scott Drexler and Steven Stewart told Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro they decided not to testify.

The judge gave both sides until Tuesday to prepare for closing arguments Wednesday in the trial that opened Feb. 9.

Defense attorneys are expected to argue the government didn’t prove conspiracy, weapon, assault on a federal agent and other charges that could, combined, get each up to 101 years in federal prison.

In another development, Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre asked in court filings for the judge to schedule jury selection to start June 5 or later for the trial of Cliven Bundy, sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and two other defendants who prosecutors characterize as leaders of a conspiracy to defy court orders to get Bundy cattle off public land.

Trial for another six defendants would follow in the fall. Myhre said in documents the government might call up to 60 witnesses in the next trial.

That could take much longer than the two months spent presenting nearly 40 prosecution witnesses against the six men accused of being gunmen and followers in the confrontation.

Parker said he arrived in Bunkerville with Drexler and Stewart before dawn the day of the standoff, didn’t know Bundy family members personally, and headed back to Idaho before dark.

In one exchange, prosecutor Nicholas Dickinson asked Parker about his comment during his interview on the overpass about needing to “keep matching the show of force” against federal authorities.

“Just like Cliven Bundy told you to do, correct?” Dickinson asked.

“Nobody told us to do anything, sir,” Parker answered.