Trial of the Century
Summarizing the Week
Cliven Bundy, sons Ammon Bundy, and Ryan Bundy, and co-defendant Ryan Payne are accused of conspiring to block federal agents from enforcing court orders when the BLM tried to confiscate Cliven Bundy’s cattle. The cattle were on public land where the ranch had grazing and water rights since the late 1800’s. The government’s actions resulted in the deaths of approximately 100 head of cattle and the destruction of the Bundy’s livestock watering system built throughout the last century.
The four defendants have been incarcerated since January of 2016. They were each charged with 10 felonies. Each man could be sentenced to more than a hundred years in prison for their involvement while resisting the confiscation. The men are brought to court in shackles and each man has had a significant weight loss since their incarceration. All their motions for pretrial releases have been denied.
The twelve jurors chosen for this trial consist of six women and six men. The four alternates consists of three men and one woman. The group is very diverse racially. All prospective jurors with any apparent bias to either side seem to be eliminated.
Also eliminated was a juror who stated on a juror questionnaire that the protest was somehow related to Uranium One. Both the prosecution and Judge Navarro where very concerned that he would not be able to put that idea aside to make an unbiased decision. The judge was not concerned about a woman jury who said on her questionnaire that she thought the Bundy’s were guilty. The defense had to use a peremptory strike on that juror.
A continuation of a prior evidentiary hearing was held on November 3rd.
The hearing focused on the shredded documents found after the protest in 2014. The defendants think the documents could have contained evidence that would aid the defense and therefore be “discoverable”, which means the government had a legal obligation to share the information with the defendants.
In the prior hearing, Kent Kleman, investigator for BLM, testified that Acting US Attorney in Nevada, and lead prosecutor in this trial, Steven Myhre, not only asked him to investigate this issue, but set the parameters and directed the course of the investigation. Myhre repeatedly objected to this testimony, calling it ‘privileged’. Klemen also testified that he learned of a “hurried shredding event”. He did not pursue investigation diligently by questioning all the people involved, nor did he ask why the shredding was done. Prosecutor Steven Myhre was conveniently absent for the November 3rd hearing.
Klemen also may have breached proper protocol when he called each of the witnesses within a week of this testimony on November 3rd. The four witnesses claimed that they did not talk about anything pertaining to the case except that they would probably be called to testify on the 3rd. During the November 3rd hearing, these four witnesses from the Unified Command staff that had been at the ranch, testified repeatedly that they could not recall any shredding. A shredder was on site according to testimony from Randy Lavasseur.
The November 3rd witnesses were (1) BLM Deputy Special Agent in Charge of Nevada and Utah, Zachary Oper, who served directly under Special Agent Daniel Love, (2) U.S. Park Service Chief Investigator Mary Hinson, (3) Captain of United States Park Police, Pamela Smith and (4) Chief Ranger of U.S Park Service, Randy Lavasseur.
All these witnesses could remember taking a part in the conference call to Washington D.C. that supposedly lead to the release of the cattle and their own evacuation of the Bunkerville Standoff; but none of the four could recall the name of the person in Washington D.C. that gave the order. None of the four could recall the name of the man that took the notes on the conference call using a laptop computer, nor which agency he was with. Mary Hinson insisted several times that she did not take any notes of what happened on April 14th. When presented with a five page memorandum she had written about the event by defense attorney Morgan Philpot, prosecutor Nadia Ahmed asked if the defense was going to impeach Hinson.
In a prior hearing, BLM Special Agent Daniel Love testified that the Department of Justice had overridden his authority as the Incident Commander. Daniel Love implicated former US Attorney Daniel Bogden for making the decision to release the cattle that brought an end to the protest. He stated that the order to surrender and release the cows was given immediately after he spoke to Bogden.
During the November 3rd hearing, there was repeated and detailed testimony by witness Mary Hinson about a camera set on the hill overlooking the Bundy home and possibly another camera six miles down the road. This equipment was setup and monitored by the FBI within the Command Trailer. The existence of any camera’s had always been denied until this hearing when Ryan Bundy questioned the witnesses. Randy Lavasseur also testified that he saw the video stream from the cameras. It is expected that the defense will make another motion for evidence from the one or two camera’s in the near future.
Even though the federal witnesses had severe memory lapses, contradicted each other and one possibly impeached herself, the judge seemed to accept their credibility without question. Furthermore, Judge Navarro stated that “just because a piece of paper or video exists doesn’t mean it’s discoverable. It needs to have a particular type of value”. She therefore denied the defendant’s motion for dismissal of the case and she also denied remedial jury instructions.
The press and court observers crowded the courtroom to hear opening statements on November 7th. After a few hours of discussing evidence the prosecution has not provided, the court date has again been delayed. The first day of the trial with the jury present for opening statements has been changed to November 14th, 8:30 am at 333 Las Vegas Blvd S., Las Vegas, Nevada. It is estimated the trial will be three to four months long. Many trial protesters will be on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse, and many more will be watching the proceedings in the courtroom.
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