Prosecution Scrutinized in Bunkerville Standoff Trial
by Shari Dovale
The Bunkerville Standoff trial in Las Vegas, Nevada has not gone well for the prosecution.
The conviction rate for Federal Prosecutions are extraordinarily high, with most years showing higher than 99%. Between guilty pleas and trials, the conviction rate was 99.8% in U.S. federal courts in 2015: 126,802 convictions and 258 acquittals. That wasn’t an anomaly. In 2014 the conviction rate was 99.76% and in 2013 it was 99.75%.
However, in the high-profile Bunkerville Standoff case, the prosecution is lowering the rate considerably.
19 people were indicted and incarcerated over the protest that ended with the Bureau of Land Management releasing Cliven Bundy’s cattle. A few defendants have taken plea offers, notably Blaine Cooper and Gerald Delemus.
The majority of the defendants have chosen to go to trial. The first trial early this year had 6 men facing 10 charges each, including 2 conspiracy charges, for a total of 60 charges. Greg Burleson was convicted of 8 of 10 charges, and was sentenced to 68 years in Federal prison. He was not convicted of the conspiracy charges.
Todd Engel was convicted of two of the lesser charges. He is scheduled to be sentenced in December. The remaining charges for these two men, as well as the other 4 defendants, were declared a mistrial when the jury could not agree on verdicts.
The prosecution chose to retry the 4 this summer. The second trial ended with full acquittals for Steven Stewart and Rick Lovelein, and a majority of acquittals for Scott Drexler and Eric Parker. Drexler had 2 remaining charges and Parker was left with 4 charges.
The prosecution immediately announced they would go for a third trial against these two men, incorporating their third trial into the trial of the “leaders” of the standoff, Cliven Bundy, two of his sons, Ammon and Ryan, as well as Ryan Payne and internet radio host, Pete Santilli.
The prosecution started offering plea agreements to most of the defendants, including Parker, Drexler, Santilli and Ammon Bundy. Then, the tragedy of October first, the Las Vegas shooting, happened just days before the trial was to begin.
The prosecution immediately withdrew their plea agreements. These men would have to face the jury during the initial aftermath of a city still in shock.
Santilli’s attorney, Chris Rasmussen, worked diligently to work a plea agreement for a single felony count of Conspiracy for his client, which was accepted. Ammon Bundy was offered the same deal, a single felony charge with time served, and he could go home. He refused to negotiate, insisting he would go to trial.
The prosecution, which had initially offered Parker and Drexler misdemeanor plea agreements, tried to coerce Parker into accepting a felony charge, which he adamantly refused. They even tried to tie it to defendant Drexler’s offer, basically telling them that Drexler could not get a misdemeanor if Parker did not accept the felony. The men stood strong, as they had during this entire ordeal, and the prosecution relented. Both men accepted misdemeanor plea agreements.
This still did not do much for the prosecution’s conviction rate, as they had 2 chances to convict the “Bundy Bridge Sniper” and could not get better than a small misdemeanor charge of obstructing a court order.
“Any person that goes to a protest better be prepared for an obstruction charge. That is the point of going to a protest,” Eric Parker said after the change of plea hearing.
Members of this same Bundy family were acquitted in another high-profile Federal case in Portland, Oregon just last year. This has increased the already enormous amount of pressure Acting US Attorney Steven Myhre is under to obtain convictions on the remaining defendants.
This family and group of Patriots have already beaten the odds. Will their luck hold out? Will prosecutor Myhre, and his inability to gain convictions, continue to be the topic of discussion?
The jury was selected this week in Las Vegas and opening arguments are scheduled to begin on Tuesday morning, November 7th.